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AUG 30 1978 



With Fire and Sword 

The Battle of Kings Mountain 

With Fire and Sword 

by Wilma Dykeman 

Illustrated by Louis S. Glanzman 

National Park Service 

U.S. Department of the Interior 

Washington, D.C. 1978 

Wilma Dykeman is a novelist, historian, and chronicler of the south- 
eastern mountain country. Among her books are The French Broad 
(in the Rivers of America Series), The Border States, and Tennes- 
see: A Bicentennial History, all dealing with the land and the people 
for which the Battle of Kings Mountain was fought. 

1 Prologue 

4 The Land and the People 

13 1780: Year of Decision 

19 "A Morass of Trouble" 

28 Britain's Tenacious Bull Dog 

37 The Over-Mountain Men 

45 "With Fire and Sword" 

58 Kings Mountain: Harvest of Death 

77 Epilogue 

82 For Further Reading 

October in the Southern highlands is a time of 
leaves turning hillsides into Persian carpets of 
color; of chilly moon-washed nights and hot drow- 
sy noondays; of ripeness and harvest. Corn, the 
succulent maize adopted by pioneers from their 
Indian neighbors, is gathered in bin and shock. 
Tobacco cures to a golden pungence. Pumpkins 
splash the fields with color, and orchard bees suck 
the sweet juices of apples that have fallen to the 
ground. Seeds sowed in the spring past, roots 
planted in long-ago decades, bring forth their 

In just such an October in 1780, another, 
quite different but no less inevitable harvest was 
gathered in an unlikely corner of the Southern 
theater of the American Revolutionary War. The 
place was called Kings Mountain, although it 
wasn't royal (named for an early settler rather 
than the distant resident of Windsor Castle) and, 
indeed, at the negligible height of only a few hun- 
dred feet above the surrounding countryside, not 
even much of a mountain. But there, on an early 
October afternoon 5 years after the beginning of 
the Revolution, King George and his ministers' 
misunderstanding of the nature and needs of their 
faraway rebellious colonies, and the British com- 
mand's misconceptions of the American character, 
ripened into a confrontation that marked a turning 
point in the war. 

If events influenced by the patriot victory at 
Kings Mountain reached far beyond that brief 
time and place, so, too, did events initiating the 
struggle at Kings Mountain reach far back in time 
and place. 

The battle of Kings Mountain did not begin 
when a brilliant, proud young British major named 

Patrick Ferguson sent a message across the wilderness barriers of the 
Blue Ridge to sturdy frontier mountain folk, warning that if they did 
not leave off opposition to British authority he would "march his 
army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country 
waste with fire and sword." 

Kings Mountain did not begin when a spontaneous army of 
hunters, farmers, and settlers, tough as hickory, weather-beaten by 
sun and wind and bitten by cold, dodged from tree to tree up that 
rocky ridge, taking deadly aim with long squirrel rifles at their 
loyalist enemies. 

Kings Mountain did not begin with the first shrill staccato of 
Patrick Ferguson's silver whistle as he spurred his horse along the 
crest of the ridge, rallying his men to wage the battle bravely. 

The engagement at Kings Mountain began far away-in Lon- 
don-in the fears of a harassed Secretary of State for the Colonies 
named Lord George Germain, who needed to believe that there were 
numerous and devoted loyalists in the American colonies and that 
they would eventually rise and turn the tide of victory for the king. 

It began long before, in the raw winter mists and grinding 
poverty of Ulster villages where the people who would be known in 
America as the Scotch-Irish nurtured fierce ideas of personal indepen- 
dence and property; in similar communities of French Huguenots 
and German Palatines; and elsewhere in Europe wherever people 
abandoned hopelessness and pushed their way to America. 

It began with symbols, such as a royal governor's extravagant 
palace that became the hated token of a burdensome taxation, and 
with protests, peaceful and otherwise, to regulate the power and 
privilege of those governors and secure some semblance of law and 
order for the neglected western frontiers. 

Kings Mountain began in the hearts and minds of people-of a 
king and his makers of policy, of generals, and of "rabble" who had 
no policy but some very firm beliefs. For the British, the message of 
Kings Mountain was a bitter harvest of mistaken judgment and mis- 
placed hopes. To the Americans, it was a revelation of possible 
ultimate victory. 

After Kings Mountain no one would claim again that there was 

an untapped reserve of loyalist sentiment out there in the hinterlands 
waiting to be gathered into the royal ranks. 

After Kings Mountain no one would fail to take seriously the 
tenacious determination and practical democracy of the people of 
the western waters. They were pushing back frontiers, opening the 
dark and bloody ground of Kentucky, planting the seeds of perma- 
nence in the distant Cumberland settlements, reaching ever westward. 

In America, in the rich interior expanses of meadow and cane- 
brake, forest and wilderness, they had found land. Land was security 
such as landless people had never known; land was commitment, a 
sense of purpose, a sense of permanence; land was freedom such as 
the dispossessed had never experienced: the freedom to change, to 
grow, to discover alternatives and make one's own choices. Their 
land and their freedom had been restricted and burdened and threat- 
ened long enough by distant authority. At Kings Mountain they were 
ready to settle the matter once and for all. 




It is necessary to remember that at the battle of 
Kings Mountain every participant but one was an 
American. Only Maj. Patrick Ferguson of His 
Majesty's 71st Highlanders was a professional 
British soldier from the British Isles. All others 
were either loyalist and patriot volunteers or-and 
this was the vast majority-militia mustered by 
local governments. 

Compulsory militia service had become a tra- 
dition in all the American colonies. Many a town 
and county seat had its "muster field" where citi- 
zen soldiers assembled at designated times to train 
and discharge their duties of preparedness. Muster 
days were serious events that frequently culminat- 
ed in celebrations and free-for-alls involving hard 
cider and fisticuffs. The people of these colonies 
were hard-working and hard-playing. When neces- 
sary many could be hard fighters. 

The quality of the various militia units varied 
widely, and many historians now agree that the 
militia's contribution to America's Revolutionary 
War has probably been underrated. At Kings 
Mountain the militia's unique features were 
brought into full use and translated into assets for 
the patriots. Among these were minimum organi- 
zation with maximum individual responsibility; 
ability to attack from ambush; quick maneuver- 
ability; and capability for swift, decisive action. In 
other circumstances, over a lengthier period, the 
militia's "excessive turnover, lax discipline, and an 
urge to question why" could play havoc with mili- 
tary effectiveness; but there were occasions when 
these were not drawbacks but conditions which 
made men more determined and dauntless. No 
engagement demonstrated this more dramatically 
than Kings Mountain. 

Who were these men of Kings Mountain? Except for 100 Brit- 
ish soldiers picked from the King's American Regiment, the Queen's 
Rangers, and the New Jersey Volunteers, they came from the Caro- 
linas, Virginia, Georgia, and present East Tennessee. Most of those 
in the loyalist forces were from the lowlands and Piedmont areas, 
while many of the patriots were from the upcountry, with a highly 
fierce and visible nucleus from the remotest corners of Virginia and 
North Carolina-the region known as the over- mountain country. 

Geography, national origins, economics, religion, and culture 
shaped the primary differences within these Southern colonies and 
these differences impelled each person to choose his side when war 
with Great Britain erupted. East-West sectionalism remained the 
most enduring divisive reality in North Carolina and to a somewhat 
lesser extent in South Carolina. 

Geography gave the coastal regions of these colonies certain 
riches: a fertile tidewater in Virginia; naval stores such as tar, pitch, 
turpentine, and timber in the Carolinas; and acres adaptable to indigo 
and rice along the South Carolina coast. Inland the country stretched 
westward across sand and clay, pine and palmetto, a gently rising 
Piedmont, and finally crested on the windswept pinnacles of the high- 
est mountains in the Appalachian chain. This diverse landscape was 
pocked with swamps in the lowlands and laced with rivers from 
mountains to sea. Its fertility varied as widely as its accessibility. 

In the east, settlement was predominantly English; along the 
North Carolina coast and extending inland there were significant 
numbers of Scottish Highlanders as well. The society established by 
these and other less numerous groups of Europeans was essentially 
aristocratic, a plantation economy based on slave labor and trade 
with Great Britain, Europe, and the West Indies. It favored the Angli- 
can Church. To the west, there were Germans-most of them from the 
Palatine in southwestern Germany, fleeing devastating wars, religious 
persecution, and heavy taxes-and Swiss, English, Welsh, Irish, French 
Huguenots, and, above all, the Scotch-Irish. Their society of small 
farms, free labor, and a religious diversity that included Presbyterians, 
Lutherans, Dunkards, Moravians, Baptists, and Quakers, was ardent- 
ly democratic, at least in its ideals. 

The over-mountain people lived in rugged little settle- 
ments carved out of the virgin land with their own hands. 




n « I if 


8 During the two decades prior to the Revolutionary War, the 

western country was opened by increasing numbers of permanent 
settlers. With the defeat of the Cherokee Indians in 1761, the South 
Carolina backcountry saw an influx of settlers. In North Carolina, 
the hamlet of Salisbury claimed that in 1764 alone more than a 
thousand wagons of families immigrating to the western borders of 
the colony had passed through its streets. By the time of the Revolu- 
tion, South Carolina's upcountry claimed 79 percent of the white 
inhabitants of the colony, amounting to 50 percent of its total 

Increase of population did not increase mutual affection be- 
tween the regions, however. "Those from the westward," wrote a 
North Carolinian some years later, "look upon the people in any of 
the commercial towns, as little better than swindlers; while those 
of the east consider the westerners as a pack of savages." The main 
point of contention was the fact that despite their growing numbers 
and their payment of inequitable taxes which favored the large land- 
holders in the east, the westerners had little political influence. In 
South Carolina the people of the upcountry felt that they had too 
little access to government; in North Carolina they felt that the gov- 
ernment had too much access to them, reaching into their pockets 
ever more deeply. But in both cases the coastal regions of the prov- 
inces dominated all branches of government. 

In 1770, when North Carolina's royal governor, William Tryon, 
completed his palatial residence (considered by many as the finest 
"government house" in British America), the backcountry people 
were infuriated at this "visible and permanent symbol of eastern 
rule." And since the colonial treasury was on the brink of bank- 
ruptcy, new taxes would have to be levied to pay for the handsome 
brick edifices and its elegant furnishings. 

One of these taxes was a poll tax, which always bore more 
heavily on the small farmer of the west than on the large planter in 
the east. Tryon, who had been given the name Great Wolf by the 
Indians, was increasingly seen by the citizens in the west as meriting 
the title in all too realistic a sense. "We want no such House, nor will 
we pay for it," they protested. 

Such attitudes of defiance had been growing throughout South 
Carolina and North Carolina since the 1761 victory over the Chero- 
kees. With law-abiding settlers and farmers, lawless adventurers and 
renegades, and all manner of new arrivals mingling along the western 
borders, the primary challenge became one of establishing an orderly 
society and viable government in the backcountry. In South Carolina 
the upcountry people felt that with all the power centralized in 
Charleston the formal institutions of local militia, weak justices of 
the peace, and small churches merely "moderated the disorder." 
When a wave of crime erupted along this frontier in the summer and 
fall of 1767, the citizens grew desperate. They formed into a group 
known as the Regulators and, lacking official protectors, took it upon 
themselves to "scourge the land of the criminal and the shiftless." 

Stolen horses, abducted blacks, and kidnapped women and 
children were retrieved from criminal terrorists. The Regulators-who 
may have numbered between 5,000 and 6,000 at their peak of popu- 
larity- sealed off their region from Charleston. Organized to suppress 
outlaws, they acted outside the law themselves and soon encountered 
the ancient dilemma of their own uncontrolled power. Arson and 
whippings became weapons of control in the upcountry. When the 
South Carolina Assembly, with agreement of the Crown, finally estab- 
lished proper western courts, Regulator activity diminished and was 
finally abandoned. 

While the South Carolina upcountry was seeking to correct 
the lack of local courts and sheriffs, the North Carolina backcountry 
began its own Regulator movement for exactly the opposite reason: 
to correct too much interference by unjust courts and venal sheriffs 
in local affairs. In the spring of 1768 the Regulators vowed to have 
officers "under a better and honester regulation." 

Accusations multiplied, riots broke out, panic threatened. Gov- 
ernor Tryon called out the militia, marched to a creek named Ala- 
mance, and there, on May 14, 1771, after warning an assemblage 
of some 2,000 Regulators, only half of whom were armed, that they 
were "in a state of rebellion against your King, your country, and 
your laws," defeated and scattered them. It was a crushing blow, and 
Tryon, already appointed governor of New York at the time of Ala- 

10 mance, soon departed North Carolina for his new post. Many of the 

Regulators departed too, for the farthest land they knew of that was 
open for settlement-the area that was soon to become the Watauga 
country. Within a year a Baptist minister estimated that since Ala- 
mance 1 ,500 families, despairing of seeing better times, had left 
North Carolina. Most of them were of Scotch-Irish stock. 

The region to which many of them removed was the over- 
mountain country-sparse, rugged, beleaguered little settlements 
along the Holston, Watauga, and Nolichucky Rivers, and in Carter's 
Valley and dozens of other beckoning sites. 

When the Wataugans, already uneasy because they were pos- 
sibly encroaching on Indian land, realized that they were beyond the 
protection of either North Carolina or Virginia, they grew fearful 
that their settlement (in the region destined to become East Tennes- 
see) would become a haven for criminals and outlaws. Displaying a 
clear notion of precisely what they wanted to achieve, these Watau- 
gans adopted written articles of agreement dealing with debtors, the 
recording of deeds and wills, and similar "public business." 

Lord Dunmore, royal governor of Virginia, called this Watauga 
Association "a dangerous example" and an encouragement "to the 
people of America of forming governments distinct from and inde- 
pendent of His Majesty's Authority." In a few years, many Americans 
would be part of a larger struggle to become "independent of His 
Majesty's authority," and it is significant that an initial impetus had 
come from a predominantly Scotch-Irish segment of the Southern 
frontier. For of all the national characters represented at Kings 
Mountain, none was more distinctive than that of the Scotch-Irish. 

These were Scots, chiefly Lowlanders, who had been part of the 
"plantation" James I of England established in northern Ireland, 
chiefly in the province of Ulster. Scottish by heritage, Irish by geog- 
raphy, these energetic people had prospered until their woolen trade 
began to compete with that of Britain. Gradually but decisively their 
woolen industry was crippled by discriminatory laws and their Pres- 
byterian religion was curtailed by prohibitions on worship and educa- 
tion. Adding to their plight was a series of crop failures. Choked by 
the tightening noose of poverty and religious antagonism, the Scotch- 

Irish began their great migrations to America. From Pennsylvania 11 

they poured southwest into the Piedmont and down the valley of 
Virginia into the harsh and demanding backcountry. 

No more numerous than the English, no more industrious than 
the Germans, no more freedom-loving than the Huguenots, the 
Scotch-Irish were nonetheless the group that left their image stamped 
indelibly on this frontier. Many of their characteristics came to be 
considered specific hallmarks of the American character, too. The 
Scotch-Irish have been described as restless and self-reliant with a 
love of adventure, great physical endurance, and the capacity to 
adapt to their surroundings. They have been called grasping, con- 
tentious, and so set in their ways that they could pray, "Lord, grant 
that I may always be right, for Thou knowest that I am hard to turn." 

Above all, the Scotch-Irish person seems to have been para- 
doxical. He has been described as both "venturesome and cautious, 
taciturn to a fault, but speaking his mind freely when aroused." 
Essentially serious, he could nevertheless display a sense of humor; 
fondness for sports revealed his sociability. Friend and foe alike 
were objects of his steadfast attention and "his nature rebelled against 
anything that savored of injustice or deceit, nor did he take kindly to 
restraint of any kind." 

This Scotch-Irish character-prompt to resent an affront, unre- 
lenting to foes-was to leave an imprint on the history of the Revolu- 
tionary War at Kings Mountain. 

The homegrown Tories, those loyalists who accompanied Pat- 
rick Ferguson on his marches across the Carolinas, came from a 
variety of backgrounds. Curiously enough, North Carolina, the first 
State to authorize its delegates to the Second Continental Congress 
to vote for independence, was one of the two States (New York being 
the other) considered most heavily loyalist during the war. 

Among the reasons for this were the presence of large numbers 
of Highland Scots who had recently sworn allegiance to the king; 
the Regulators who still hated the Assembly so strongly that when 
that body urged a revolutionary cause they automatically rallied to 
the king; and the natural Tory sympathies of those devoted Anglicans 
who were fearful of the backwoods religions and whose economic and 

12 social ties bound them to London rather than to their native America. 

These, then, were some of the people who played out the drama 
of Kings Mountain. They were neighbors and enemies, Highlanders 
and Lowlanders, king's men and democrats, natural leaders and 
reluctant followers. They were used to fighting. They had fought 
back in their native land at such places as Culloden. They had fought 
the Indians. In the summer and autumn of 1776 alone, Georgia, 
North and South Carolina, and Virginia sent more than 5,000 militia- 
men into the Cherokee country to meet Indian attacks encouraged 
by the larger war taking place along the coasts, and there were almost 
monthly forays and skirmishes between the Indians and the settlers 
pushing ever deeper into their domain. They had fought each other, 
in scattered violent episodes of the Regulator movement. So far, 
most of them had been preoccupied with meeting daily local chal- 
lenges of survival; they had not yet taken a full-fledged role in the 
Revolution riving the rest of the country that would soon be called 
these United States of America. 

But as the year 1780 approached, the country staggered under 
the burdens that seemed insupportable and the South reeled under de- 
feats that seemed irreversible. It was to be an eventful, decisive year. 

On a bitterly cold December 15, 1779, in Morris- 
town, N.J., George Washington sent a report as 
commander in chief of the army to the Continental 
Congress: "Our prospects," he wrote, "are infi- 
nitely worse than they have been at any period of 
the War, and unless some expedient can instantly 
be adopted a dissolution of the Army for want of 
subsistence is unavoidable-A part of it has been 
again several days without Bread-and for the rest 
we have not either on the spot or within reach a 
supply sufficient for four days." 

Valley Forge and the cruel winter of 1777-78 
are fixed in the popular imagination as the season 
of suffering for the patriot forces under their 
dauntless leader; less appreciated is the agony the 
army experienced at Morristown in the winter of 
1779-80. Snow was 4- to 6-feet deep before the 
rude winter huts could be built, and many soldiers 
slept under a single blanket on a thin bedding of 
straw, without shoes or adequate clothing. Half 
frozen and half starved they staggered from one 
day to the next. 

Not only bread was lacking but bullets, too. 
Again, General Washington tried to impress the 
message that this crisis arose not from transporta- 
tion problems or accidental circumstances such as 
had occurred in the past, "but from the absolute 
emptiness of our magazines everywhere and the 
total want of money or credit to replenish them." 

The money Washington and his patriot forces 
needed was simply non-existent. Or, just the oppo- 
site, it was in too great an existence. One of the 
greatest failures of the Congress was in the realm 
of finance, where both imagination (ideas foster- 
ing fiscal responsibility) and courage (to imple- 
ment this responsibility) were lacking. After print- 


14 ing 242 million paper dollars, Congress decided to stop the printing 

presses. By March 1780, the paper dollar was worth a fourth of a 
cent in gold. The saying "not worth a continental" came into use to 
reflect the ravages of inflation on citizens and soldiers alike. The 
United States, as James Madison observed years later, had tried to 
survive by pumping instead of patching the leaks. 

Minus coordination and sometimes the will, groping for some 
effective system of organization and support, the colonies let the 
Continental Army sink toward starvation. On St. Patrick's Day in 
1780, Washington complained that he had only enough grain to 
make bread for 5 days and pickled meat to last for 40 days. By late 
summer the commander in chief was reduced to feeding his army "by 
marching it from temporary camp to temporary camp, exhausting 
the food supply of the neighborhood instead of more properly draw- 
ing on the country as a whole. If this kept up the Army would become 
a horde of plunderers." 

The condition of the private soldier was thus more desperate 
in 1780 than at any time during the whole war. Washington stated 
that the Army would have "dissolved long before except for patriot- 
ism, and the Congress could not rely on this cement forever." 

In the South, circumstances of war and geography had wrought 
a situation in which the fierceness of combat was not confined to 
opposing armies. In the Carolinas and Georgia every crossroads and 
household became a potential battleground. The Revolution was not 
so much a struggle between British regulars in their scarlet coats 
and close formation opposed by patriot soldiers with such uniforms 
and weapons as they could muster as it was a fitful, miserable civil 
conflict. Guerrilla fighting raged, and both sides were afflicted with 
the violent passions that nullified all compassion. The number of 
skirmishes which took place in the interior of the lower South has 
been estimated as "dozens, possibly hundreds." 

As accounts of lootings, burnings, and killings circulated 
through the countryside, fears and hatreds intensified with each em- 
bellished version. Vengeance became a way of life. When Nathanael 
Greene arrived in North Carolina late in 1780 to lead the patriot 
forces in the South, he found that "not a day passes but there are 

more or less who fall a sacrifice to this savage disposition. The Whigs 15 

seem determined to extirpate the Tories, and the Tories the Whigs." 
Greene, a Quaker who may have recoiled with more than normal 
dismay at the daily horrors compounded by such internecine warfare, 
warned: "If a stop cannot be put to these massacres, the country will 
be depopulated ... as neither Whig nor Tory can live." 

Hot tar and feathers became one of the rituals of punishment 
inflicted by vigilante groups on those suspected of Tory sympathies 
or accused of aiding the British forces invading the countryside. 
Painful as this searing public shame may have been, it was perhaps 
no more dreaded nor resisted than the confiscation of property which 
left a loyalist impoverished and homeless. 

Among the most sinister and despised of all the participants in 
this warfare, however, were those who came to be known as "out- 
liers," a term that would carry over into the American Civil War of 
1861-65, when it would assume even larger and more dreaded con- 
notations in the upcountry fighting of the Southern States. Outliers 
were simply those people who refused to support either side of the 
conflict. They rode and raided, often indiscriminately, and for their 
own profit. Much of the fear and turmoil that tore families and com- 
munities asunder during the war was a result of these plunderers for 
private gain and greed, who struck and disappeared and were all too 
seldom caught or punished by either side. 

If 1780 was the nadir for the patriot cause, with colonial fi- 
nances in shambles, Washington's army neglected and dispirited, and 
the Southern theater deteriorating into a cannibalistic kind of fury, 
there was still no reason for the British to indulge in self-satisfaction. 
Their fortunes, too, were at a low ebb. By 1779 the expense of war 
in America plus the burden of war with France and Spain had placed 
a heavy strain on King George's coffers and his subjects' patience. 
British agents sought new loans in Europe, despite high interest rates, 
to add to a national debt that already stood at £200 million sterling. 
Unemployment fostered deep unrest. John Wesley, the father of 
Methodism, in his travels across the British Isles saw the suffering 
firsthand and warned that thousands of idle, starving workmen gave 
portent of rebellion. 

16 The war in America received a full share of blame for Britain's 

bankrupt conditions, and in mass meetings the freeholders of county 
after county denounced further pursuit of that conflict. Thus in the 
turbulent spring of 1780, the American Revolution might have been 
ended, or at least modified, by the frustrations and needs of a public 
outraged against king and Parliament-except for a strange occur- 
rence which suddenly seized London. 

A half-mad Scottish peer named Lord George Gordon, capitaliz- 
ing on the unrest that prevailed throughout the land, indulged in the 
ages-old rabble-rousing device of blaming complex political and eco- 
nomic troubles on the wiles of a racial or religious minority. For 
three terrible days in June the city of London was at the mercy of a 
mob. Newgate Prison was set afire, the Bank of England was at- 
tacked, Catholic chapels were destroyed, and the House of Commons 
was threatened. Before the arson and pillage were brought under con- 
trol, some 450 people had been killed or wounded and thousands had 
been terrorized. 

Such a display of anarchy was sobering to those who had been 
leading legitimate protests against governmental policies. The episode 
stilled, for the moment, the questions and dissatisfactions that had 
been welling up across the British Isles. The time had long since 
arrived for a strategic reappraisal of the war in the American colonies, 
but the king and his ministers were no more willing to undertake the 
task now than they had been 2 years earlier when George III, pour- 
ing over maps of America, had devised the 1778 Southern campaign 
in which each side had failed-the British in their attempt to take 
Charleston and South Carolina, the Americans in their attempt to 
oust the British from Savannah and Georgia. 

By late 1779, the British were turning South again, staking 
their fortunes on a choice that would be pursued to its ultimate 
perimeters in the crucial year of 1780. For the basis of that choice 
involved the fundamental error on which much British strategy had 
been constructed. Every step Britain made suggested belief in the 
myth of a dissident minority which would arise to become active 
loyalists "constituting one of Britain's most important potential re- 

Reliance, even in fantasy, on such tenuous support, had fostered 17 

a lack of decisiveness that frequently undermined the results of any 
British victory. Desultory operations that "neither completely de- 
stroyed the enemy nor restored peace to the conquered territory" 
simply served to keep opposition alive and led to the vicious situation 
which existed in the South throughout 1780. 

Thus, on the drizzly, rainy day in March 1780, when Sir Henry 
Clinton, with a force of 8,500 soldiers (plus 5,000 seamen mustered 
from the fleet behind him), began a 30-mile march from John's 
Island toward Charleston, launching the final great British campaign 
in the South, he was following once again the strategy devised by 
King George and Lord Germain. According to that strategy, South 
Carolina was to be reestablished as a royal colony, after which it 
would be a relatively simple task to tramp through North Carolina, 
which was "but the road to Virginia," and then on to the Chesapeake 
Bay area where British forces could reassert their strength and control 
of the seaboard. Along the way it was expected-at least by those 
planning the maneuver on paper-that "large numbers of the inhabi- 
tants would flock to the King's standard." 

Dependence on the loyalists was even more crucial to this cam- 
paign than to the earlier attempt to subdue the South. Now there 
was an aroused British public clamoring for an end to a war they 
believed Britain would not win; there were even those in high places 
who believed Britain could not win. After the British defeat at Sara- 
toga and France's formal entry into the conflict on the patriots' side, 
Lord North himself had recognized that "the best we can make of 
the war is to get out of the dispute as soon as possible." But the King 
would not consider Lord North's resignation nor the war's unsatis- 
factory conclusion. His persistence and that of his Secretary for 
Colonial Affairs was reenforced by one vocal group in London: the 
loyalist exiles who had fled from America to spend the duration of 
the war in Britain. They were loud and positive in asserting that they 
represented a large, though muffled, body of opinion in the American 
colonies. Germain seized on their testimony to support beliefs he had 
long propounded, and finally he found himself locked into a position 
of using the loyalists as a cause for continuing the war. Military reali- 

18 ties were being distorted or overridden by political considerations. 

The blunt and definitive action at Kings Mountain would do much to 
point out the fatal consequences of such distortion. 

In this atmosphere of unreality, of feverish grasping for expe- 
dients, the potential of loyalist support in the Southern backcountry 
became primary "evidence" in arguments for continued prosecution 
of the war. Dissidents in the House of Commons who could not be 
persuaded by such arguments were now appealed to on the basis of 
honor. It was proclaimed that those who had remained stalwart 
loyalists were owed a debt of honor by Great Britain and efforts to 
defeat the American rebels must continue. Germain, in many ways 
an able and curious personality who bore much calumny and opposi- 
tion throughout his life, had staked his career and the future of one 
segment of the proud and powerful British Empire on marshalling 
effective loyalist support in the South. His hope never materialized. 

There was no alternative now. Britain, rent by internal division 
and increasing weakness of its far-flung external resources, increas- 
ingly dependent upon a surge of Southern loyalists to win its war, 
launched the Southern offensive of 1780. 

As for the patriot cause, lacking the basic necessities to wage 
effective combat, it turned to the Southern theater and all the debili- 
tating civil conflict there, depending upon Southern patriots to deter- 
mine its future. 

Thus, each side acutely needed the allegiance of that vast, ne- 
glected, enigmatic interior known as the backcountry-reaching from 
the lowlands and Piedmont up into the rugged mountains of south- 
western Virginia, western North Carolina, and the area that would 
become East Tennessee. But the people of those landlocked coves 
and valleys had shown only sporadic interest in the war raging along 
the coast. They were preoccupied with their own dangers, one of 
which was continuing conflict-or threat of conflict-with the Indians, 
who tended, on the whole, to side with the British more than the 
patriots in this war. The over- mountain people were a buffer, protect- 
ing the Southern colonies from attack through their back door, either 
by hostile Indians or foreign powers. Beyond that, they had not 
thrown the full weight of their commitment to either side. 

Nature did not welcome the British expedition of 
Sir Henry Clinton as it sailed along the fearful 
North Carolina coast in January 1780, en route 
from New York to South Carolina. Violent storms 
scattered transports and escort vessels, sank a ship- 
load of cannon, and forced destruction of the fine 
cavalry horses that were to be essential to the 
Southern campaign. 

But the British general remained confident. 
His assurance was matched only by the negligence 
of those tending the garrison in Charleston, Clin- 
ton's immediate objective. Mrs. St. Julien Ravenel, 
writing later about the dallying and delay dis- 
played by Charlestonians toward their fortifica- 
tions, remembered that a fort which was ordered 
in January to be built with "all expedition" was 
not half done when news of the coming of the 
British fleet was received. "At once all was bustle 
and activity. . . . The approach of the fleet had 
done more in one week to unite the people than 
the acts of the ministers or the eloquence of Gads- 
den had effected in months." 

The bustle and activity came too late. On 
May 12, following a methodical month-long Brit- 
ish siege, solid but ill-fated Gen. Benjamin Lincoln 
surrendered America's fourth largest city and the 
commercial capital of the South. It was the most 
severe defeat suffered by patriot forces during the 
entire war. The only patriot army in the South, 
18 Continental regiments in all, including the en- 
tire South Carolina and Virginia Lines and one- 
third of the North Carolina Line, was lost. The 
British claimed 5,500 troops captured, including 
seven generals and 290 other Continental officers. 
It represented the largest total of patriot prisoners 
captured at any one time during the Revolution. 


20 Precious quantities of muskets, ammunition, powder, and ordnance 

materiel were also lost. Most important, British hopes were momen- 
tarily revived. News of the victory at Charleston served as a welcome 
antidote to mounting Parliamentary opposition. And patriot spirits 
were plunged into ever deeper despair. 

Rumors abounded that Washington was prepared to foresake 
the Southern colonies. Dejected patriots began to wonder if further 
resistance was justified or even possible. As they acknowledged their 
defenselessness they began to admit, reluctantly, the possibility of the 
return of royal government. 

At this moment, official Britain's misunderstanding of the Amer- 
ican character proved decisive to the future course of the war. Clinton 
had won a battle but he failed to win the peace. Soon after the fall of 
Charleston, he offered lenient paroles to any of the American rebels 
who would return to the royal fold and thenceforth remain peaceably 
at home. Thousands flocked in to receive such paroles. It appeared 
that the countryside might soon be pacified. Then, abruptly, on June 
3, Sir Henry did an about-face and proposed a hard line in dealing 
with rebel Carolinians. By these new terms anyone who had taken 
the parole and withdrawn from conflict was now ordered to swear an 
oath of allegiance and take "an active part in settling and securing 
His Majesty's government." 

From quiescence the Carolinians were aroused once more to 
resistance. They felt that their good faith had been violated. What 
had appeared to be initial clemency was now revised to involve an 
unwelcome kind of collaboration. Forced to choose sides once more, 
some of them openly took up arms with the patriots, while others 
subscribed to the oath but considered their pledge given under duress 
"and consequently felt no obligation to honor it." 

In addition to this official reversal, which many citizens con- 
sidered in fact a betrayal, there were also bloody British raids and 
depredations launched across the countryside. Following the fall of 
Charleston, Clinton thought it necessary to dispatch efficient, quick- 
striking bodies of soldiers into the hinterlands so that the populace 
would be convinced of British supremacy. Thus, patriots would be 
intimidated or dissuaded from their allegiance, and loyalists would 

be emboldened to rally and become the unified force of long-time 21 

British expectations. 

Intimidation was not a wise weapon to use in seeking the fidelity 
of Carolinians, however. It was especially unwise when put in the 
hands of an officer such as Col. Banastre Tarleton, the dashing but 
ruthless commander of Clinton's light cavalry. Tarleton became to 
the South during the Revolutionary War what William Tecumseh 
Sherman was to the South during the Civil War : a symbol of all that 
was brutal in war, his name a rallying cry for retaliation. 

A short, stocky redhead, Banastre Tarleton at 26 years of age 
was a graduate of Oxford, a hard-riding, high-living dragoon officer 
who bragged about his triumphal subjugation of sundry women and 
the victorious conquests of his Legion. When all the horses for his 
cavalry perished on the voyage South he vowed "to put his men on 
good horseflesh and to make his mark on the Southern rebels." 

One of those indelible marks was struck on May 29, 1780,- in 
the Waxhaws country near the North Carolina line where Tarleton, 
after a ride of 54 hours covering a distance of 105 miles, overtook 
a column of retreating Virginia Continentals and a detachment of 
William Washington's cavalry under Col. Abraham Buford. Exag- 
gerating his force of 200 by claiming 700 men, Tarleton demanded 
Buford's surrender and when the latter refused, Tarleton attacked. 
The result was a slaughter. Dr. Robert Brownfleld, a surgeon with the 
Continental forces, later recalled the encounter as it was to be re- 
corded in the memory of Americans: "Not a man escaped. Poor 
Pearson [a lieutenant in the patriot rear guard] was inhumanely 
mangled on the face, as he lay on his back. . . . The demand for 
quarter, seldom refused to a vanquished foe, was at once found to 
be in vain. Not a man was spared, and it was the concurrent testi- 
mony of all the survivors that for fifteen minutes after every man was 
prostrate, they [the British] went over the ground, plunging their 
bayonets into everyone that exhibited any signs of life, and in some 
instances, where several had fallen one over the other, these monsters 
were seen to throw off on the point of the bayonet the uppermost, 
to come at those beneath." 

In all, 1 13 patriots were killed and another 150 so badly maimed 

22 that they were left to die on the field. Tarleton lost five men killed 

and 12 wounded. With this skirmish the British had "eliminated the 
last organized military force in the three southern provinces" and the 
call to remember "Tarleton's Quarter" entered the American lexicon. 
The cry of "Bloody Tarleton" became part of the psychological am- 
munition of the Americans. Tarleton's brutality would be repaid, 
with interest, to future British forces. 

Objective historians may or may not have decided that the brash, 
fierce Tarleton was a butcher. But, more important, partisans of the 
time believed it. Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox," told of finding 
Tarleton's victims, "Women & Children," who were "Sitting in the 
open Air round a fire without a blanket or any Cloathing but what 
they had on." And the effect of such reports was what mattered in 
arousing public sentiment. In the Waxhaws, an influential citizen 
named William Hill decided, following Tarleton's victory there, that 
the time had come for him to join the war. A group of followers went 
with him and they volunteered their services to Thomas ("The 
Gamecock") Sumter, who was fighting his own rearguard battles in 
upper South Carolina. There were many similar instances of those 
who stirred out of their non-alliance and marched to oppose Bloody 

These operations seemed to Sir Henry Clinton merely peripheral, 
however. The city of Charleston was secure. No sustained resistance 
seemed to be gathering in North Carolina. Grumbling about his final 
severe edict on loyalty oaths would subside. Triumphant and confi- 
dent, Clinton prepared to return to New York. On June 8, with a 
substantial part of his army, he departed for the north, leaving his 
second in command, the able, aggressive, and controversial Charles, 
Earl Cornwallis, to subdue any lingering resistance and launch a 
successful march across North Carolina and Virginia. 

Two years earlier, Cornwallis had left America because of the 
illness of his wife in England. In 1779 he returned because her death 
"had made England unendurable to him." He wished to rejoin his 
friends on active service. Cornwallis firmly believed that the only 
way to protect South Carolina was to advance northward and defeat 
the Continental regulars around whom hordes of militiamen rallied 

during every engagement. The advance on Virginia and dispersal of 23 

American regular troops thus became central to Cornwallis' plans 
for victory in the South. 

In the summer of 1780, with 8,345 men to hold and extend 
British control in the South, Cornwallis found himself in a rapidly 
deteriorating situation. Pacification was not proceeding as planned. 
A series of strategic posts had been fortified across the backcountry, 
from Augusta on the Savannah through Camden to Georgetown on 
the coast. But these were not sufficient to hold the loyalists' support 
while civil war was intensifying. By early August Cornwallis admitted 
that "the whole country between Peedee and Santee" had flared into 
"an absolute state of rebellion." It was a terrible summer of civil 
war, "marked by bitterness, violence, and malevolence such as only 
civil wars can engender." 

Patriot partisans, operating out of the tangled swamps of the 
Carolinas, used their knowledge of terrain, their adaptability to the 
weather, and their familiarity with the region's inhabitants to gain 
impressive advantages. Their exploits became legendary, their names 
gathered a mythical aura: Francis Marion, Thomas Sumter, Andrew 
Pickens-hardy, daring men who could assemble a small loyal band 
of followers and strike an enemy with the deadly speed and force of 

In addition to the lowland guerrilla leaders there were three 
partisans who commanded other special patriot forces. One of these, 
Col. Charles McDowell, led North Carolina militia. With the fall of 
Charleston and the British forays into the countryside, McDowell 
notified the over-mountain men to send him all the riflemen they 
could spare. Col. Isaac Shelby had been in the Kentucky area survey- 
ing his claims to lands there when news of the fall of Charleston 
reached him. He hastened home, he said, "determined to enter the 
service of the Country, until her independence was secured." He 
responded to McDowell's call by leading 200 mounted riflemen from 
Sullivan County to join McDowell on Broad River. Uniting with 
these was Col. Elijah Clarke, a native North Carolinian who had 
moved to Georgia and led Georgia militia in the skirmishes that took 
place from the last of June until the battle on Kings Mountain. 

24 The three major encounters of these troops took place at 

Thicketty Fort on July 30, at Cedar Spring on August 8, and at 
Musgrove's Mill on August 18. At Thicketty, one of the British posts 
in the South Carolina interior along the headwaters of the Pacolet 
River, Shelby and Clarke achieved the surrender of the fort without 
firing a shot. It was a heady victory. A few days later they were 
ordered out again to cut off foragers for the large British forces under 
command of Maj. Patrick Ferguson. The patriots and Tories met at 
Cedar Spring. The encounter concluded with a chase through the 
forest, which was to the liking of the mountain men who knew how 
to fight "Indian fashion." The British won the field but were unable 
to recapture prisoners the patriots had taken at the beginning of the 
fight. Here, for the first time, Ferguson encountered that bold and 
tenacious breed of men from the western waters. 

At Musgrove's Mill, on the Enoree River, Shelby, Clarke, and 
Col. James Williams attempted a surprise attack on the provincials 
and Tory militia. The surprise failed, but their sharpshooting did not. 
The result was 63 dead, 90 wounded, and 70 prisoners among the 
British forces, with only 4 patriots killed and 8 wounded. 

Elated by this victory the leaders turned their thoughts toward 
a larger goal: the post at Ninety-Six, where Major Ferguson was 
enjoying remarkable success raising his loyalist militia and securing 
public support. The officers had mounted their horses to lead the 
way toward Ninety-Six when they were diverted. "At that moment," 
Colonel Shelby remembered later, "an express [messenger] came up 
from McDowell in great haste with a short letter in his hand." That 
letter told of a major battle 2 days before the skirmish at Musgrove's 
Mill, a disastrous rout near Camden. 

In the early morning darkness of August 16, 7 miles north of 
the village of Camden, S.C., the patriots under Gen. Horatio Gates, 
recently appointed commander of the small, newly formed Southern 
Army, stumbled into a British column led by Cornwallis, who was 
seeking to determine the whereabouts and the strength of this patriot 
force. Both armies fired a few shots and recoiled from the sudden 
confrontation until dawn could help them discover each other's loca- 
tion. The patriot general was at a special disadvantage. Cornwallis 

had long since won the devotion of his officers and men. Lord Ger- 25 

main's nephew had reported that the Earl was "deservedly the fa- 
vourite of every person of every rank under his command." But 
Horatio Gates was largely unknown to the men following him across 
the sweltering Carolina land that night in deep summer. 

Upon assuming command of what he insisted on calling "the 
grand army," Gates, the hero of Saratoga, had been warned by his 
old friend, Charles Lee: "Take care lest your Northern laurels turn 
to Southern willows." Gates came south after his appointment and 
found in the encampment at Coxe's Mill, N.C., "an army without 
strength, a military chest without money, a department apparently 
deficient in public spirit and a climate that increases despondency 
instead of animating the soldier's arm." Under temporary command 
of the remarkable Bavarian, self-styled "Baron" Johann de Kalb, the 
meager, largely untrained army carried its baggage on its back and 
foraged for its own food as it marched. There were long fasts broken 
by occasional summertime feasts of green apples and peaches, which 
played havoc with digestive systems. 

Promptly upon joining this haggard, ill-supplied army Gates is- 
sued the astounding order to make ready to march. They would attack 
Camden. Choosing, against the advice of the shrewd and able 
Kalb, an unlikely route through desolate pine barrens and Tory 
country, Gates led his hungry men past fields of new corn. A diet of 
green corn, hastily wrenched from its stalks in the fields, combined 
with peaches scavenged along the way and "poor fresh beef without 
salt," increased the painful digestive disorders. Diarrhea sent men 
fairly reeling into the woods and slowed the march. 

As they approached the vicinity of Camden, Gates decided to 
make a night march. When they heard his announcement, his sub- 
ordinates were too confounded to protest, although one officer later 
wrote, "it could not be conceived that an army consisting of more 
than two-thirds militia, and which had never been once exercised in 
arms together, could form columns and perform other maneuvers in 
the night and in the face of the enemy." To complete the comedy, or 
tragedy, of errors, when Gates discovered that there was no rum 
available for the customary extra allowance of "spirits" which was 

26 provided before a military engagement, he ordered molasses to be 

dispensed as an "acceptable" substitute. Gates' adjutant general re- 
membered afterwards that the "hasty meal of quick baked bread and 
fresh beef, with a dessert of molasses . . . operated so cathartically 
as to disorder very many of the men, who were breaking the ranks 
all night and were certainly much debilitated." 

Suddenly, at 2 o'clock on that moonless, sultry night, the ad- 
vance guards of the two armies slammed into each other-to their 
mutual astonishment. After some sharp firing, each withdrew and 
preparations were made for an engagement to begin at dawn. 

That engagement was short and catastrophic for the patriot 
forces. Gates placed his untrained, untested militia opposite Corn- 
wallis' regulars, some of whom belonged to such crack outfits as the 
71st (Frazer's) Highlanders and the 23d Regiment of Foot (Royal 
Welsh Fusiliers). As the battle began, the weakened, inexperienced 
militiamen were suddenly confronted with firing, huzzaing redcoats 
descending upon them-and they broke and ran. They had bayonets, 
but these had been issued only the previous day and few of the militia 
knew how to handle them. They threw down their bayonets and their 
loaded muskets and fled across the fields. The Continental soldiers 
fought, but they were hopelessly outnumbered. 

Dauntless 60-year-old Kalb led attack and counterattack. 
The horse on which he rode was killed and he received a saber slash 
on his head. Still he fought, his great frame taking cruel punishment. 
When at last he fell, he was bleeding from 1 1 wounds. He had refused 
to retreat until he received orders from his general. But Gates was 
not around to give any orders. Swept from the field in the first stam- 
pede of the militia, the general was covering the ground, "astride a 
charger sired by a famous racer named Fearnought," from Camden 
to Hillsborough, N.C. He made the 200 miles in V/i days. 

Patriot dismay at the Camden fiasco was summarized in the 
cutting sarcasm of Alexander Hamilton who remarked on Gates's 
flight: "Was there ever such an instance of a general running away 
. . . from his whole army? And was there ever so precipitous flight . . .? 
It does admirable credit to the activity of a man at his time of life." 
Laurels had indeed become willows. 

Fellow soldiers were more tolerant of the general. The man 27 

who would become his successor, Nathanael Greene, subsequently 
looked at the battlefield and considered Gates's hastily assembled, 
inexperienced army, and decided that Gates was "unfortunate but 
not blameable." Wherever the blame might lie, the patriot situation 
in the South had been rendered even more desperate. Another army 
had been routed. The historian George Otto Trevelyan described 
the patriots' situation at this point as "a morass of trouble which 
seemed to have neither shore nor bottom." 

As for the partisan leaders, the Camden defeat forced Shelby 
and Clarke to abandon their plans to attack Ninety-Six and head 
toward the hills. Maj. Patrick Ferguson pursued them closely. 

Ferguson was halted in his pursuit near Fair Forest by a message 
from Cornwallis summoning him to Camden. At the Earl's temporary 
headquarters, Ferguson learned of the general strategy for the next 
stage of the Southern campaign. Cornwallis was uneasy. He would 
have liked to move out across North Carolina at once except for two 
considerations. One was the weather. The intense heat of late sum- 
mer in the South increased the miserable illness of malaria and yellow 
fever among his men. The other deterrent was the number of rebel 
bands still roaming the countryside. Cornwallis had finally decided 
to launch a three-pronged thrust: his right wing, to the east, would 
secure the coast and insure a stream of supplies. He himself would 
command the main army in the center, driving straight up through 
North Carolina. His left wing would make a wide western sweep, 
subduing that troublesome, unknown country along the frontier. 

This important left wing was placed under command of Major 
Ferguson. McDowell and Shelby and all the mountain militia who 
had been harassing the British army, along with Sevier and Campbell 
and Cleveland and all the backcountry men who would soon be in- 
volved in thwarting these British plans, could consider it something 
of a tribute that Cornwallis sent this particular officer against them. 
For Patrick Ferguson was one of the best that Cornwallis had.* 

* In accounts of Kings Mountain, Ferguson is sometimes referred to as "major," 
sometimes as "lieutenant colonel." This is because word of his long-expected 
promotion to the latter rank did not arrive until after the battle and Ferguson's 












The dynamic that defined Patrick Ferguson's life 
and character most consistently was the fact that he 
was a professional soldier in the best possible tradi- 
tion of that term. He fought for patriotism (loyalty 
to his own country) and honor (loyalty to his own 
code of manhood ) , and he followed the recognized 
rules of war. Where his compatriot, Banastre 
Tarleton, killed with a relish that suggested pleas- 
ure as well as necessity, Ferguson balanced diplo- 
macy with battle and seemed to wage war only 
from necessity as he evaluated a given situation. 

"You must no longer look upon him as your 
son," Ann Ferguson's brother wrote to her from 
Quebec in August 1762. "He is the son of Mars 
and will be unworthy of his father if he does not 
give proofs of contempt of pain and danger." The 
son from whom this Scottish woman was supposed 
to disengage her motherhood was then 18 years 
old-not as tall as he would like to be, but intelli- 
gent and as personable as any mother could wish. 
Already he had been in the military service for 3 
years. He would live up to his uncle's challenge to 
display only contempt for pain and danger. 

Perhaps his less than commanding height-5 
feet 8 inches-and an unprepossessing appearance 
(ordinary, dark straight hair framing a serious 
countenance and even, chiseled features) caused 
Ferguson to intensify those qualities of character 
which emphasized leadership. Those who knew 
him spoke of the intelligence, as well as the impul- 
siveness, of the man. In addition, he was gifted 
with that rare magnetism which wins the affection 
and loyalty of followers. 

The world in which Patrick Ferguson spent 
his youth was that of the landed gentry of the 
Scottish Highlands. On his father's, Lord Pitfour's, 

family estate in Aberdeenshire, he and five brothers and sisters grew 29 

up in an atmosphere of physical comfort and intellectual culture. 
Spirited horses, riding to hounds, and the exuberance of exertion in 
a natural world at once harsh and beautiful was balanced with respect 
for education and surroundings that included the exhilaration of 
great books, paintings, and lively conversation. His inclination, how- 
ever, was to fulfill the meaning of his Gaelic name, "Feargachus"- 
bold-and he chose the active life of a soldier over the contemplative 
life of the scholar. 

When he was 15 years old a commission was purchased for him 
and he entered the army as a cornet in the Royal North British 
Dragoons. At 16 he was serving in the wars of Flanders and Ger- 
many, and in an incident at the Battle of Minden in 1760 he ex- 
hibited that coolness which would characterize him throughout his 
life. When his horse jumped a ditch and his pistol fell from its holster, 
he turned and galloped back under fire to face enemy hussars and 
calmly retrieved the weapon. His dragoons were later commended 
for "prodigies of valor" performed at that battle. Such a brilliant, 
ambitious teenager must have been deeply disappointed when con- 
taminated drinking water brought on an illness so serious that he was 
sent home in 1762. He remained in Scotland and England for the 
next 4 years. This interval provided him with an experience singu- 
larly useful for his subsequent role of leadership in America. As a 
participant in the debate over extension of English militia laws to 
Scotland, Ferguson gained firsthand knowledge of some of the prob- 
lems and potential of the role he would later fill as His Majesty's 
Inspector of Militia in the Carolinas. 

In 1768, when he was 24, he became a captain and was sent to 
the West Indies to quell an insurrection among the Caribs. There he 
learned something about the fierceness of partisan fighting on the 
part of brave marksmen defending their homeland. The West Indies, 
Nova Scotia, and back to England-all this before the spring of 1777 
when he was sent to America where he joined Sir Henry Clinton's 
army and was placed at the head of a corps of riflemen. At the battle 
of Brandywine in September, his "meritorious conduct was acknowl- 
edged by the whole British army." 

30 During that same fight his conduct might have won the appre- 

ciation of the patriots had they known of a strange episode that took 
place on the battlefield. Captain Ferguson later wrote about it to a 
relative in Scotland. As he and his riflemen lay at the edge of a wood 
in the forefront of one of the British divisions, "a Rebel officer, 
remarkable by a hussar dress, passed towards our army, within a 
hundred yards of my right flank, not perceiving us. He was followed 
by another, dressed in dark green and blue, mounted on a bay horse, 
with a remarkably high cocked hat. I ordered three good shots to 
steal near to and fire at them; but the idea disgusting me, I recalled 
the order." 

Then Ferguson continues: 

The hussar, in returning, made a circuit, but the other passed within a hundred 
yards of us, upon which I advanced from the wood towards him. Upon my 
calling, he stopped; but after looking at me, he proceeded. I again drew his 
attention, and made signs to him to stop, levelling my piece at him; but he slowly 
cantered away. As I was within that distance, at which, at the quickest firing, I 
could have lodged half a dozen balls in or about him, before he was out of my 
reach, I had only to determine; but it was not pleasant to fire at the back of an 
unoffending individual, who was acquitting himself very coolly of his duty-so I 
let him alone. 

Next day, Ferguson wrote, he was telling some wounded officers 
about his little encounter when one of the surgeons came in. The 
doctor had been informed that General Washington spent that morn- 
ing with the light troops, attended only by a French officer in hussar 
dress. Descriptions of Washington's clothing and mount coincided 
with that of the officer Ferguson had spared. "I am not sorry that 
I did not know at the time who it was," Ferguson concluded. 

Of course, neither he nor anyone else ever really "knew." The 
interesting aspect of this anecdote is Ferguson's attitude toward his 
most renowned enemy. 

While he was still in England, Ferguson had heard of the 
"boasted skill of the American marksmen." As inventor of the first 
breechloading rifle used in the British army, he was an authority on 
firearms. His rifle improved on the old flintlock in a number of ways: 
it was loaded at the breech, without using a ramrod, which increased 
its rate of fire; its aim was more precise; and it proved more depend- 

able in wet weather. Exhibition of this rifle in action impressed Great 31 

Britain's highest military dignitaries and King George himself, and 
Ferguson was issued patents for his rifle and improvements. The 
100 select soldiers he brought to America with him were pains- 
takingly trained by Ferguson in the use of his breechloader. 

But the military, ever chary of innovations, decided against 
using Ferguson's rifle. This decision was made by Gen. William Howe 
after the battle of Brandywine, while Ferguson was incapacitated by 
a wound that had shattered his right elbow and permanently crippled 
his arm. General Howe took advantage of Ferguson's absence from 
the army during his painful recuperation to disband the special corps 
Ferguson had trained so patiently and successfully (but without 
Howe's personal approval) and to store the rifles Ferguson was using 
to such advantage (but without Howe's personal permission). 

Without the use of his right arm, without his special corps of 
marksmen, without use of his efficient new rifle, Ferguson returned 
to the field. Persistent practice with his left hand led to increased 
skill with the sword. At Monmouth, Little Egg Harbor, N.J., and 
finally in the siege of Charleston he continued to win the respect of 
British and Americans alike for his "valor and enterprise." No 
wonder his fellow officers called him the "Bull Dog." He was pro- 
moted to the rank of major and finally (although he would never 
learn of it) to the temporary rank of lieutenant colonel. When a 
bayonet was thrust through his left arm during one of the skirmishes 
outside Charleston, a fellow officer wrote: "The whole army felt for 
the gallant Ferguson." Three weeks later, the tenacious Bull Dog 
was fully recovered, however, at least in one arm. 

This was a proud, bitter, brilliant, frustrated officer who came 
under the command of Lord Cornwallis after the fall of Charleston. 
Toward each other, Cornwallis and Ferguson were correct but not 
cordial. At the age of 36, the latter was 10 years older and immensely 
more experienced than either Tarleton or Francis, Lord Rawdon, 
commander of the loyalist regiment known as the Volunteers of 
Ireland, but Cornwallis gave these two favored treatment. One reason 
for the distance between Cornwallis and Ferguson was Ferguson's 
belief that an effective loyalist militia could be formed. 

Ferguson's Tory army enters Gilbert Town, where 

he issued the ultimatum that set the patriots on 

the road to Kings Mountain. 



A Nfc**? - ^ 


. l \ 


34 As he set forth on his forays, Ferguson was mindful of the 

Southern summer heat which played havoc with soldiers unaccus- 
tomed to its extremes. He led the marches of his Provincial Corps 
(some 150 to 200 men) in the cool of the mornings. As Inspector of 
Militia in the Southern Provinces, Ferguson's duty seemed to Corn- 
wallis "more that of a Justice of the Peace than a soldier." His re- 
markable achievement, however, was to raise about 4,000 loyalist 
militia and put a force of some 1,000 of these into the field. His 
success in this difficult task was especially apparent when contrasted 
with the failure of many similar efforts. 

Ferguson's attitude was not that of Tarleton, whose "no quar- 
ter" repelled Ferguson and caused him to demand the execution of 
those dragoons who had butchered a surrendering enemy. His tactics 
were not those of Cornwallis, who had given orders "that all the 
inhabitants of this province, who have subscribed and taken part in 
this revolt, should be punished with the greatest rigor, and their whole 
property taken away from them or destroyed," and "that every 
militia-man, who has borne arms with us, and afterwards joined the 
enemy, shall be immediately hanged." Ferguson chose to pacify 
rather than to terrorize. 

Historian Lyman C. Draper, who spent a lifetime documenting 
the personalities and events surrounding the battle of Kings Moun- 
tain, tells us that Ferguson would "sit down for hours, and converse 
with the country people on the state of public affairs, and point out 
to them, from his view, the ruinous effects of the disloyalty of the 
ring-leaders of the rebellion-erroneously supposing that it was the 
leaders only who gave impulse to the popular uprising throughout 
the Colonies. He was as indefatigable in training them to his way of 
thinking, as he was in instructing them in military exercises. This 
condescension on his part was regarded as wonderful in a King's 
officer, and very naturally went far to secure the respect and obedi- 
ence of all who came within the sphere of his almost magic influence." 
He appealed to patriot wives and mothers to persuade the men in 
their families who were "outliers" to return home and renew alle- 
giance to the King. 

As he began his marches across the interior of the Carolinas, 

Ferguson announced, "We come not to make war on women and 35 

children, but to relieve their distresses." Some households which were 
not sympathetic to the British cause nevertheless found a certain 
drama in some of their encounters with the urbane Major Ferguson. 
There was irony in the fact that this soldier could be less bloody and 
harsh in his relations with civilians than the Tory and patriot civilians 
were in their attacks on each other. As he sought to win their alle- 
giance, Ferguson brought a measure of unaccustomed subtlety, even 
diversion, into many rude, routine lives. 

Despite Ferguson's personal attitudes, many of those who joined 
his ranks were loyalists who had become part of the ferocious an- 
tagonism tearing the region apart during that summer and autumn 
of 1780, and British progress through the countryside inflicted ex- 
cesses and sufferings on numbers of patriot citizens. There was plun- 
dering of "cattle, horses, beds, wearing apparel, bee-gums, and vege- 
tables of all kinds-even wresting the rings from the fingers of the 

Foraging parties rounded up the people's cattle and soldiers' 
horses were turned loose in fields of grain. Partisan leaders led attacks 
and counterattacks against these invasions. Colonels Charles Mc- 
Dowell and Isaac Shelby harassed Ferguson in engagements already 
described. Then, following Cornwallis' victory at Camden in August, 
Ferguson's Tory militia and his Provincial Corps of American loyal- 
ists joined ranks to secure the backcountry and protect Cornwallis' 
rear and western flank as he marched across South Carolina and into 
North Carolina. 

There was one vast area that remained an unknown factor, 
however. That was the country to the west, across the Blue Ridge. 
From his headquarters at Gilbert Town, Ferguson now issued an 
ultimatum to the people and their leaders in this wild mountain 
country. He paroled one of his prisoners, Samuel Phillips, who had 
been captured at the Musgrove's Mill engagement, and sent him to 
Col. Isaac Shelby with a message. Shelby and his fellow mountain 
men were to "desist from their opposition to the British arms, and 
take protection under his standard," and if they did not Ferguson 
would "march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and 

36 lay their country waste with fire and sword." 

No strategy could have been better devised to unify the patriots 
scattered along the frontier and set them on the long march across 
the mountains. Maj. Patrick Ferguson had made the first of two 
mistakes disastrous to his campaign: he misjudged the men he would 
face in forthcoming battle, as he would soon misjudge the place where 
he chose to wage that battle. 

Britain's Lord Rawdon wrote in his report of Kings 
Mountain that "A numerous Army now appeared 
on the Frontiers drawn from Nolachucki and other 
Settlements beyond the mountains whose very 
names had been unknown to us." Not only the very 
names but the essential history and character of 
the men who made up this army were unknown to 
the British leaders. 

An accepted attitude was probably reflected 
in an estimate written by Maj. George Hanger, a 
swashbuckling soldier briefly attached to Fer- 
guson's Legion, with which he was more com- 
patible. "This distinguished race of men," he 
sarcastically observed of the dwellers in the back- 
country, "are more savage than the Indians, and 
possess every one of their vices, but not one of 
their virtues. I have known one of these fellows 
[to] travel two hundred miles through the woods 
never keeping any road or path, guided by the 
sun by day, and the stars by night, to kill a par- 
ticular person belonging to the opposite party. 
He would shoot him before his own door, and 
ride away to boast of what he had done on his 

Hanger made the mistake that many observ- 
ers of mountain civilization would repeat during 
coming generations, enlarging-perhaps exaggerat- 
ing-a single instance into a stereotype by which to 
describe a large and varied group of people. The 
men who received and responded to Ferguson's 
ultimatum were not savages. They might more 
accurately have been likened to members of Scot- 
tish clans, momentarily subjecting their cherished 
individuality to demands of the common good-in 
fact, their common survival. Their leaders exem- 
plified much of the natural authority, unhesitating 


38 militancy, and tactical skill shown by ancient chieftains. 

The first of these leaders, sought out at Ferguson's command 
by his distant kinsman and neighbor, Samuel Phillips, was Isaac 
Shelby who lived on the lower settlements of the Holston River. A 
large man whose size belied his agility, Isaac resembled his father, 
Evan Shelby, who had emigrated from Wales at the age of 15 and 
become a community leader in Maryland and then in the Holston 
settlements, "a man of commanding appearance, stout and stern." 

Young Isaac had been a cattle herder in the mountains, an 
Indian fighter, and, during Lord Dunmore's war, a soldier who dis- 
tinguished himself at the battle of Point Pleasant in western Virginia 
in October 1774. When the Transylvania Company was formed with 
a vast acreage embracing much of the country that would become 
Middle Tennessee and the State of Kentucky, he served with several 
surveying parties in the vast new domain. Although he became cap- 
tain of a company of Virginia minutemen in 1776, and helped supply 
various frontier garrisons, he was not deeply engaged in the Revolu- 
tion until July 1780, when Col. Charles McDowell called upon him 
for help in resisting Ferguson's thrusts toward the western waters. 
Isaac Shelby left off surveying lands to which he had laid claim on 
earlier expeditions and returned to take part in encounters at Thick- 
etty Fort and elsewhere, until Gates' defeat at Camden had driven 
the patriots back across the mountains. 

When they had returned home the latter part of August, Shelby's 
men were suffering from exhaustion and malnutrition. Their terms 
of enlistment were ready to expire. And now Isaac Shelby received 
this threat borne by Samuel Phillips from the arrogant Ferguson. He 
saddled his horse and rode some 40 miles to talk with the fiery com- 
mander of the Washington County militia, embracing the Watauga 
and Nolichucky settlements. His name was John Sevier. 

No man on that frontier was more popular or widely known 
than this descendant of French Huguenots. It was typical that Shelby 
should find Sevier and his family and friends enjoying a "jollification" 
complete with horse-racing and barbecue. The contrast between the 
two friends was apparent in their response to each other. Shelby was 
deeply disturbed by the message he carried and the apparently care- 

free merriment by which he found himself surrounded on Sevier's 39 

place seemed inappropriate. He spoke abruptly to his friend, saying 
that it was no time for fun-making. When Shelby explained his plans 
for a campaign, Sevier was as enthusiastic as he had been a moment 
before in the frolic. John Sevier's love of pleasure provided welcome 
relief in a border country where daily life was laborious and relent- 
less. Sevier could dance all night or fight all day, pursuing each with 
equal skill and enthusiasm. 

As Shelby and Sevier talked during that day and the next, con- 
sidering every aspect of their situation and that of their communities, 
isolated on the westernmost boundaries of States that took little 
interest in their welfare and provided scant protection, the two militia 
leaders resolved that their only defense must be an immediate offense. 

No other decision could have been expected of John Sevier. 
He had not yet won the reputation of being a scourge of the Indians, 
and he was only at the beginning of a career of leadership for his 
district and, in the future, his new State. But the qualities described 
by his biographer, Carl Driver, were already plain: "All character- 
istics of the pioneers blended in the personality of John Sevier. He 
was settler and speculator, adventurer and trader, Indian fighter and 
law-maker." He married his first wife, Sarah Hawkins, when he was 
17 years old. They had 10 children. His second wife, "Bonny Kate" 
Sherrill, bore him eight children. This, too, was typical of the pioneer. 

Physically, Sevier and Ferguson may have been the shortest of 
the leaders engaged at Kings Mountain; Sevier, too, was some 3 or 4 
inches under 6 feet in height. Also like Ferguson, he was well- 
proportioned, hard-muscled, and lithe. He could assume the manners 
of a cavalier as well as the authority of a militia leader, and his fellow 
Westerners liked the reputation that "he could out-ride and outshoot- 
and, it is said, outswear-the best and the worst of the men who 
followed him." 

John Sevier, soon to be popularly known as "Chucky Jack," 
after his home on the Nolichucky River, would lead no more men 
and fight no more steadfastly than a number of other participants in 
the battle of Kings Mountain, yet more than any other he would 
become the legendary hero and personification of that victory. One 

40 reason for this lies perhaps in another particular quality he shared 

with his opponent, Patrick Ferguson: his charisma as a leader. It 
posed no small challenge to be a leader of frontiersmen, many of 
whom had sought out their place and way of life precisely because 
they wished to be free of all authority. But Sevier followed the course 
that could prove successful in welding prickly individualists into an 
effective single force: "He gave his commands as to equals, and, 
because these orders appealed to his men as being wise and practical, 
they gave unquestioned obedience. This loyalty of his friends formed 
one of the outstanding features of his success throughout his whole 


The jollification at Sevier's farm was ended as he and the judi- 
cious Isaac Shelby laid their plans to surprise Ferguson and his Tories. 
Neighbors hurried to their own homes to await a call to action. There 
were several pressing needs to be met. 

The first was for men. Quickly, without delay, an effective force 
must be assembled and marched across the mountains to answer the 
British threat of invasion. Sevier and Shelby needed the help of Col. 
William Campbell of the Virginia settlements on the Clinch River 
and Col. Charles McDowell's troops from North Carolina's Burke 
County, and they sent communications to these two leaders. Dis- 
appointed by Campbell's initial response-he thought it better to keep 
their positions on the frontier strong and let Ferguson come to them, 
increasing Ferguson's distance from Cornwallis-Shelby wrote a sec- 
ond urgent message, pointing out that without Campbell and his men 
there could be no force sufficient to undertake the task of challenging 
the British provincials and militia. The Virginian reconsidered and 
agreed to join his friends, as did McDowell. A call was issued for a 
general rendezvous at the Sycamore Shoals on the Watauga River 
near the present Elizabethton, Tenn., on the 25th of September. 

McDowell and his North Carolina refugees from the skirmishes 
with Ferguson's troops were already encamped at or near Sycamore 
Shoals. The accounts these refugees told of Tory atrocities in the 
Piedmont and lowcountry had stoked the anger of the over-mountain 
people and assured their resistance to any threat of invasion. 

The second necessity for such an expedition was funds. An early 

historian of the Tennessee country, J. G. M. Ramsey, has left us an 41 

account of how this problem was met: 

Colonel Sevier tried to borrow money on his own responsibility, to fit out and 
furnish the expedition. But every inhabitant had expended the last dollar in 
taking up his land, and all the money of the country was thus in the hands of the 
Entry-taker. Sevier waited upon that officer and represented to him that the want 
of means was likely to retard, and in some measure to frustrate, his exertions, to 
carry out the expedition, and suggested to him the use of the public money in 
his hands. 

John Adair, Esq., late of Knox County, was the Entry-taker, and his reply 
was worthy of the times and worthy of the man. 'Col. Sevier, I have no authority 
by law to make that disposition of this money. It belongs to the impoverished 
treasury of North Carolina, and I dare not appropriate a cent of it to any pur- 
pose. But, if the country is overrun by the British, liberty is gone. Let the money 
go, too. Take it. If the enemy, by its use, is driven from the country, I can trust 
that country to justify and vindicate my conduct. Take it.' 

Sevier and Shelby personally pledged repayment of the $12,000 
or $13,000 received for ammunition and supplies to outfit the gather- 
ing troops. 

In response to the need for supplies, there was a surge of activity 
throughout the mountains. At the grist mill near Matthew Talbot's 
home in the Watauga settlement, corn fresh from the autumn harvest 
was ground into meal for an army's bread. On a little branch of 
Buffalo Creek, a woman named Mary Patton was in charge of a small 
powder mill which supplied some of the needs of the riflemen. In a 
mineral-rich cove of the hills near John Sevier's home, lead was mined 
for balls to add to the ammunition supply. And on almost every farm 
beeves and horses were rounded up for the march. At every household 
clothing was prepared for the marchers. 

Word of the call to arms spread like a leaf-fire among the settle- 
ments. On September 25th the flats at the Sycamore Shoals began to 
fill with rough-skinned, sharp-eyed, resolute men accompanied by 
women whose hands were calloused and whose courage was likewise 
evident. Six years before, there had been another historic gathering at 
this site. At that time, some 1,200 Cherokee Indians and their chiefs 
had treated with Judge Richard Henderson of North Carolina and 
several hundred eager white settlers for purchase of approximately 
20 million acres of land that would become the State of Kentucky 

42 and part of Tennessee. It was at that time and place that the dissident 

chief, Dragging Canoe, had leaped into the circle of treaty makers 
and warned the white men that they had purchased a fair land but 
in its settlement it would be a dark and bloody ground. 

For all the grimness of their purpose, an air of excitement bor- 
dering on revival fervor animated this crowd. They dwelt in rude 
little forts and isolated cabins huddled among virgin forests of tower- 
ing trees and trackless mountain ranges. Loneliness and hard labor 
were their daily fare. Any event that drew them together provided 
an opportunity to exchange news, to savor the fellowship of those 
enduring challenges similar to their own, to relish exchanges of wit 
and humor, sympathy and grief. As they assembled-more than 1 ,000 
strong, the largest gathering of settlers that had ever been seen in 
that part of the country-they built their campflres, smelled the bitter 
pungence of wood smoke in the evening air and the welcome aromas 
of food, watched their horses picking at grassy patches in the mead- 
ows, and tended the beeves they were taking along for a ready food 
supply. The men talked and planned and prepared. And the women 
cooked, made last-minute patchings or polishings on clothing or 
equipment, and they talked and worried over the dangers of the 
battlefield and made plans to meet the dangers of their scantily pro- 
tected homefront. 

They were an army without uniforms. Many of their hunting 
shirts were of fringed buckskin while others were of homespun linsey- 
woolsey, "clumsily made, blouse fashion, reaching to the knees and, 
gathered up, tied around the waist. In the fulth [fullness] was often 
carried heavy burdens, as much as a bushel of corn at one time." 
Their breeches and gaiters were of rough, home-dyed cloth. Long 
hair was tied back in a queue beneath their wide-brimmed hats. 

They were an army little encumbered with baggage, unaccom- 
panied by any supply train. Each man had a blanket, a cup, and "a 
wallet of provisions, the latter principally of parched corn meal, 
mixed, as it generally was, with maple sugar." There was an occa- 
sional skillet in which to stir up the meal in hot water or cook what- 
ever game they might find along the way. 

The pride of many a participant was his long rifle. Remarkable 

for the precision and distance of its shot, this weapon was also known 43 

as the Deckard or Dickert rifle, after its maker in Lancaster, Pa. The 
owner of one of these long, heavy rifles "rejoiced in its possession." 
Powder was carried in the powderhorns the men wore slung around 
their necks. Some of the horns bore carvings which their owners had 
whittled out during long winter nights, just as most of the rifles bore 
names given them by owners who had found them to be their nearest 
companions in the endless search for food, safety, entertainment-and 
now freedom. 

They were an army without staff or quartermaster, without com- 
missary or surgeon or chaplain. In fact, all they had to offer was 
themselves and their fierce determination to render Ferguson's 
ultimatum futile. 

On the broad open spaces by the swift-flowing Watauga, sur- 
rounded by distant mountains where the headwaters of the river were 
born in dozens of hidden springs and clear rivulets, the people of the 
western waters assembled. John Sevier brought 240 men from Wash- 
ington County (then North Carolina, later Tennessee). Isaac Shelby 
commanded a like number from Sullivan County. And the initially 
reluctant William Campbell caused rejoicing as he led 400 Virginians 
into the camp. Charles McDowell's 160 Burke and Rutherford Coun- 
ty patriots, who had already fought Ferguson's forces, swelled the 
numbers at Sycamore Shoals. As they left this rendezvous and moved 
across the mountains they would be joined by other leaders and their 
militia. Like smaller streams feeding into a swelling river, Benjamin 
Cleveland and Joseph Winston would join with 350 men from Wilkes 
and Surry Counties, James Williams would bring 400 South Caro- 
linians. Swiftly and surely they became an army. In the final count, 
the over-mountain men made up less than half of the total patriot 
force that finally faced Ferguson at Kings Mountain. 

Actually this army would be properly described as "composed 
of patriot riflemen of the farmer, hunter, and Indian fighting class 
from the frontiers of the two Carolinas and Virginia." But it was the 
over-mountain leaders who had kindled the spirit, initiated the plans, 
and raised the funds for the march against Ferguson. Their image 
would dominate the popular memory of that western response that 

44 began with the assembly at Sycamore Shoals. 

In the dewy autumn dawn of September 26th, the camp was an 
anthill of activity as horses were saddled, cattle were rounded up, 
and families made ready for parting. The horses were precious; many 
had been lost in Indian raids. Amidst the tumult of humans and 
animals, shouts and tears, military orders and whispered farewells, 
there was an interval of quiet. Doughty Scotch-Irish clergyman 
Samuel Doak-graduate of the institution that would become Prince- 
ton University, founder of the first regular school west of the Alle- 
ghenies, who had brought the first books into the Tennessee country 
on his horse's back, while he walked-was ready to pronounce a 
prayer for the expedition. Leaning on their rifles, the mountain men 
listened to the preacher's rhetoric as he likened their cause to that 
of Gideon's people, in the Bible, opposing the Midianites. Doak 
prayed for the victory he confidently predicted, and then in an 
upswelling confidence he offered the little army its battle cry: 
'The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!" he thundered. 
They echoed the words. "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!" 
Then they swung into their saddles and began the long ride to 
find Ferguson and confront the British threat to their freedom. 

Their cattle delayed the mountain men's progress 45 

during the first day of their march. Their way was 
also made difficult because the route followed 
obscure Indian trails and the terrain was as rugged 
as that in any part of eastern America. That Tues- 
day, September 26th, they ate their first midday 
meal at Matthew Talbot's Mill, only 3 miles from 
Sycamore Shoals where they had started. Then 
they followed Gap Creek to its head, crossed Little 
Doe River, and made camp for the night at a 
landmark known as the Shelving Rock, on Big 
Doe River. They had covered 20 miles. Near their 
encampment they found a blacksmith named Mil- 
ler who shod several of their horses. 

The next day there was more trouble with 
the cattle. After a small stampede, the impatient 
men butchered several beeves for a temporary sup- 
ply of meat and left the rest behind as they hurried 
on their way, relieved to be no longer encumbered 
with a drove of livestock. They followed Bright's 
Trace, named ironically enough for a rogue who 
was reputedly sympathetic to the Tories and whose 
wife was one of the first persons to be convicted 
of stealing in that part of North Carolina. Later, 
there were those who preferred to call it Yellow 
Mountain Road for the route that led through the 
gap between Yellow and Roan mountains. 

As they left the fertile Crab Orchard Valley 
behind, the marchers encountered snow "shoe- 
mouth deep" on the mountain slopes. Despite this 
early calling-card of winter in the high altitudes, 
the country was stunningly beautiful. On the sum- 
mit of the mountain there was a great grassy bald 
which would pose a continuing puzzle for later 
generations of botanists. Natural gardens of rho- 
dodendron suggested the blanket of rose and pur- 

46 pie that would cover these heights in early summer. On this table- 

land, watered by an abundant clear spring, the army encamped, 
paraded, and made a disturbing discovery. Two of John Sevier's men 
had deserted, and he suspected that they had gone to warn Ferguson 
of the over-mountain men's approach. 

According to one account, "Two problems now confronted the 
mountaineers. They must increase the speed of their march, so that 
Ferguson should not have time to get reinforcements from Corn- 
wallis; and they must make that extra speed by another trail than 
they had intended taking so that they themselves could not be inter- 
cepted before they had picked up the Back Country militia under 
Colonels Cleveland, Hambright, Chronicle, and Williams, who were 
moving to join them. We are not told who took the lead when they 
left the known trail, but we may suppose it was Sevier and his 
Wataugans, for the making of new warpaths and wild riding were 
two of the things that distinguished Nolichucky Jack's leadership. 
Down the steep side of the mountain, finding their way as they 
plunged, went the over-hill men. They crossed the Blue Ridge at 
Gillespie's Gap and pushed on to Quaker Meadow." 

It had been a hard 5 days' march to the McDowells' plantation at 
Quaker Meadows, near the present Morganton, N.C. But there they 
were so welcome that Maj. Joseph McDowell exceeded all bounds of 
hospitality by inviting the army to use his fencerails for the campfires! 

North and South Carolina reinforcements swelled the ranks of 
the patriot army to just under 1,400 men. They were now within 
striking distance of Ferguson. The fair weather which had marked 
the days of their marches through the mountains took a turn for the 
worse, however. After a half-day's march from Quaker Meadows, the 
men were marooned in camp by rains that began on Sunday after- 
noon, the first of October, and continued through the following day. 
Unaccustomed to discipline and restraint, the volunteers grew uneasy 
and irascible. Their leaders would now be put to the test. 

And who were these leaders? In addition to the Welshman, Isaac 
Shelby, and the French Huguenot, John Sevier, there was William 
Campbell, the quintessential Scotch-Irishman, ruddy-complexioned, 
a veritable giant of a man standing 6 feet 6 inches tall. His physical 



Route of the 




48 strength and endurance, his quick temper and impeccable honor were 

known to all. His wife was a sister of Patrick Henry. Campbell had 
been a militia leader since Lord Dunmore's War of 1774, and he had 
served in the Virginia House of Delegates. 

Other leaders gathered on this venture were Joseph McDowell, 
a Virginian who had foresaken the easy life to move to the Carolina 
Piedmont, and Benjamin Cleveland, another Virginian, who had 
moved west and built his reputation as an Indian fighter. These would 
soon be joined by other outstanding fighters: James Williams, a long- 
time Tory hater who had served as a delegate to the provincial legis- 
lature of South Carolina; William Chronicle, a veteran of the 1780 
skirmishes and a resident of the south fork of the Catawba; Joseph 
Winston, a leather-tough frontiersman who had been fighting Indians 
since he was 17; and Edward Lacey, a onetime Pennsylvanian who, 
at the age of 13, had served with Edward Braddock's army in the 
Indian campaigns. 

Now, however, the leaders needed a leader. They sent Charles 
McDowell, the senior officer among them, to ask General Gates-still 
in command of the Southern forces despite the Camden debacle-to 
assign them a general. They closed their request with this sentence: 
"All our Troops being Militia and but little acquainted with disci- 
pline, we could wish him [the general officer] to be a Gentleman of 
address, and able to keep up a proper discipline without disgusting 
the soldiery." 

Gates did not respond. The colonels were in no mood to wait 
for anything less than a prompt reply. Shelby, rejecting any proposal 
of delay, suggested that Campbell was the only officer not from North 
Carolina and could therefore serve without arousing any jealousy. 
Thus William Campbell became commander of the combined forces. 

They took up the march again and on October 2 camped 16 
miles north of Gilbert Town, where they looked forward to finding 
Ferguson and his army. As they broke camp the next morning Cleve- 
land requested the troops to form a circle so that he could "tell them 
the news." 

A blunt, corpulent man weighing at least 250 pounds, Cleveland 
in all his rudeness knew how to appeal to frontiersmen. He used 

that knowledge now. "The enemy is at hand," he said, "and we 49 

must up and at them. Now is the time for every man of you to do his 
country a priceless service-such as shall lead your children to exult 
in the fact that their fathers were the conquerors of Ferguson." 

Cleveland made an offer, and Shelby repeated it, that anyone 
who wished to "back out" should take advantage of this opportunity 
and "step three paces in the rear." They could then part company 
with their companions and return to the safety of home-and, it was 
implied, permanent ignominy. No one moved. 

There was a murmur of approval. And then Shelby issued a 
directive which summarized the spirit and the reality of the entire 
Kings Mountain engagement. The nugget of his message was con- 
tained in these two sentences: "When we encounter the enemy, don't 
wait for the word of command. Let each one of you be your own 
officer, and do the very best you can, taking every care you can of 
yourselves, and availing yourselves of every advantage that chance 
may throw in your way." At Kings Mountain every man in the patriot 
force was, in a very real sense, his own officer. Leaders and followers 
meshed their efforts in a kind of concentrated fury as they searched 
for Patrick Ferguson. 

Ferguson was not in Gilbert Town when the patriots arrived 
there. He had left several days before. On the first day of October, 
he was encamped at Denard's Ford on Broad River. He had sent a 
message of some urgency to Col. J. H. Cruger, commander of the 
British post at Ninety-Six, requesting 100 men as reinforcements. He 
received the brief reply that such help was out of the question-the 
garrison at Ninety-Six totaled only half that number. He had directed 
an appeal for assistance to Cornwallis but he had received no answer. 
(Cornwallis, in fact, did not receive the message until the morning 
of the battle of Kings Mountain. ) Deserters from the patriot forces 
brought news of the approach of the over-mountain men and their 
swelling ranks. 

Ferguson's natural confidence was being eroded by a sense of 
growing unease. He longed to engage these backcountry rebels in a 
fair fight, but he needed some assurance of more support than he 
now enjoyed. Aware of his past successes in winning people of the 

The patriot army of farmers, hunters, and frontiers- 
men crosses the mountains to find Ferguson. 


Wmm J 

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52 countryside to the king's cause, he issued a new proclamation. Its 

exaggeration and bravado suggested a mounting desperation. 

Denard's Ford, Broad River, 
Tyron County, October 1, 1780. 
Gentlemen: Unless you wish to be eat up by an inundation of barbarians, who 
have begun by murdering an unarmed son before his aged father, and afterwards 
lopped off his arms, and who by their shocking cruelties and irregularities, give 
the best proof of their cowardice and want of discipline; I say, if you want to be 
pinioned, robbed, and murdered, and see your wives and daughters, in four days, 
abused by the dregs of mankind-in short, if you wish to deserve to live, and bear 
the name of men, grasp your arms in a moment and run to camp. 

The Back Water men have crossed the mountains; McDowell, Hampton, 
Shelby, and Cleveland are at their head, so that you know what you have to 
depend upon. If you choose to be degraded forever and ever by a set of mongrels, 
say so at once, and let your women turn their backs upon you, and look out for 
real men to protect them. Pat Ferguson, 

Major 71st Regiment. 

Ferguson's actions during the next 5 days appear erratic and 
puzzling. He was awaiting the return of furloughed loyalists who had 
been called back into the ranks. In addition, he did not know at what 
point along any road or river he might meet an enemy detachment. 
Elijah Clarke and his Georgia patriots were supposed to be marching 
to join the over-mountain men and Ferguson had been ordered to 
intercept them. So far his searches had proved fruitless. He had also 
been informed by Cornwallis that patriot cavalry was riding from the 
east and might attack him. 

There was more than uncertainty of enemy locations behind 
Ferguson's dallying, however. His almost aimless marches, his casual 
frittering away of precious time, suggest that a number of contradic- 
tory impulses and conflicting hopes were at war within him. As a 
shrewd and experienced soldier he knew that only these 100 Rangers 
of his Provincial Corps, chosen from the King's American Regiment, 
the Queen's Rangers, and the New Jersey Volunteers, could be abso- 
lutely depended upon when the fighting grew fierce. 

However, as a self-confident and enthusiastic recruiter of his 
force of some 1,000 Tory militia, many of whom he had patiently 
trained and drilled, he anticipated an opportunity to prove his superi- 
or, Cornwallis, wrong in the latter's disdain for the militia. 

As an able tactician who realized the danger of facing superior 53 

numbers on unfamiliar terrain without any promise of reinforcements, 
Ferguson finally directed his route toward Cornwallis' headquarters. 
But as a proud man whose vanity had been wounded by dismissal of 
his excellent rifle without a fair trial and by Cornwallis' coolness and 
favored treatment of the brutal Tarleton, Ferguson longed to lead 
this force under his command to a glorious victory. Only 3 months 
earlier, in mid-summer, he had considered resigning from the army; 
the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Germain himself, had 
written to Sir Henry Clinton asking that Ferguson be dissuaded from 

Burning with ambitious hopes, nagged by logistical realities, 
Ferguson did not leave Denard's Ford until 4 o'clock Monday after- 
noon, the 2d of October, and then he marched only 4 miles. His 
army slept in the open that night, their arms at the ready. 

Next day, Tuesday, brought an opposite experience, with the 
march beginning at 4 o'clock in the dark of the morning. After ford- 
ing Second Broad River, Sandy Run, and Buffalo Creek, and after 
covering about 20 miles, they reached the plantation of a loyalist 
named Tate, 1 mile from Buffalo Creek. For two full days, Wednes- 
day and Thursday, Ferguson and his men loitered in camp at Tate's, 
awaiting news on the whereabout of his pursuers, still hoping for 
reinforcements. He was also waiting for his wagon train, which had 
taken a different and less-exposed route from the camp near Denard's 

Where was the dashing Tarleton, who pleasured in pursuit of 
the enemy? Where was George Hanger, Tarleton's second in com- 
mand, who held such disdain for the backcountry men and enjoyed 
the gore and glory of combat? Where was Cornwallis, who realized 
the debilitating effect upon an army of such prolonged encounters in 
this interior country, draining away men and time whether they 
resulted in Pyrrhic victories or niggling defeats? 

Oddly enough, the three who might have extended help to 
Ferguson were each brought low by the greatest enemies of all: the 
weather and illness. By the time Ferguson wrote Cornwallis his final 
appeal, Tarleton had been desperately ill with fever for 2 weeks. 

54 Hanger had managed to bring the Legion into Charlotte before he 

succumbed to malaria, too. And a "feverish cold" was racking Corn- 
wallis' portly frame. 

Ferguson's unavailing plea, written on Thursday, the 5th, to 
his commander-in-chief, was brief, at once pointed and pathetic in 
its brevity: "I am on my march towards you, by a road leading from 
Cherokee Ford, north of King's Mountain. Three or four hundred 
good soldiers, part dragoons, would finish the business. Something 
must be done soon. This is their last push in this quarter and they 
are extremely desolate and [c]owed." 

This dispatch suggests that Ferguson had decided to move 
directly to join Corn wallis. On Friday his army was on the march 
from Tate's plantation once more by 4 o'clock in the morning. They 
followed the old Cherokee Ford road between Buffalo and Kings 
creeks, crossed a branch of the latter creek near a mill site, continued 
along the ridge road, and turned into Battleground Road. They 
forded Kings Creek, went through Stony Gap, and approached a 
rocky ridge of upland which was a sort of spur of a larger range 
known as Kings Mountain. Instead of continuing on toward Char- 
lotte and the security of Cornwallis' army only 35 miles away, the 
column was directed to climb the wooded slopes of the ridge toward 
its rocky summit. Patrick Ferguson had found the site where he would 
stand and turn and meet his pursuers. 

Atop the ridge, in his command quarters, Ferguson wrote Corn- 
wallis one final message: "I arrived today at King's Mountain & have 
taken a post where I do not think I can be forced by a stronger enemy 
than that against us." The site was bountifully supplied with water 
from a spring on the northwest side of the ridge; forage in the sur- 
rounding countryside was scant, but Ferguson's men had become 
adept at discovering whatever was available. 

Capt. Abraham DePeyster of the King's American Regiment 
was second in command. Member of an old and influential New York 
family, he was an able leader who had encountered some of the 
patriot militia in earlier forays with Ferguson-from the siege of 
Charleston through Musgrove's Mill to the present situation. And 
Captain DePeyster was not happy with the choice of Kings Mountain 

as a battleground. Loyalty to his commander-in-chief had led to the 55 

nickname "the Bull Dog's Pup," however, and this correct, aristo- 
cratic young officer would not carry his unease into an open dispute 
with Ferguson. 

Other officers were from New Jersey as well as New York. One 
of these, Lt. Anthony Allaire, of Huguenot descent, was keeping a 
diary of the campaign in the Carolinas. His entry that Friday con- 
cluded with the arrival at "Little King's Mountain, where we took 
up our ground." Ferguson and his officers and men settled in to wait 
for the rebel army. They did not have to wait long. 

After their disappointment in missing Ferguson at Gilbert Town, 
the patriot force engaged in a tracking exercise following the elusive 
loyalists. Baffled by the meandering, indecisive route, the patriots 
lost the trail, recovered it, and began to grow discouraged. Finally, 
on Thursday evening, the 5th, encamped at Alexander's Ford on 
Green River, Campbell and his colonels held a council and decided 
to select the best mounted riflemen among them to speed up the 
pursuit. At dawn the next morning, those who had good horses, some 
700 in all, set out after Ferguson. 

After covering 21 miles they reached The Cowpens on Friday 
evening. Here, several miles southwest of where the roads intersected, 
was a famous cattle range with a few pens for the livestock herded 
there; the owner, it was recalled years later, was a wealthy Tory 
named Hiram Saunders. When the weary riders found Saunders in 
bed, they hauled him out unceremoniously but were unsuccessful in 
their attempt to secure information about Ferguson and his men. 
Silas McBee, a patriot lad in that campaign, gave an account in his 
old age of the slaughter of several of Saunders' cattle to feed the 
hungry soldiers: "The bright camp fires were everywhere seen lighting 
up the gloomy surroundings, and strips of beef were quickly roasted 
upon the coals and embers; while fifty acres of corn found there 
were harvested in about ten minutes." 

If farmer Saunders' spirits were downcast by the sudden destruc- 
tion which had been visited upon him, the army's spirits at The 
Cowpens were gladdened by two developments. The first was the 
arrival of Col. James Williams with his 400 men. The second was the 

56 report of a spy, a crippled man named Joseph Kerr, who had gained 

access to Ferguson's camp by pretending to seek protection for his 
lame condition. The Tories were at that time halted for their noon 
meal only 6 or 7 miles from Kings Mountain. Kerr learned of the 
plans to march up the ridge and encamp later that day. 

The patriots made another selection of the fittest, fastest mount- 
ed men. These more than 900 horsemen were to be followed by about 
85 foot soldiers. They set forth from The Cowpens about 9 o'clock 
on Friday night, the 6th, in their final push to confront Ferguson. 
The night was dark as tar from Carolina pines as they followed the 
route taken by Ferguson only the day before. The march along rough 
country roads was made more difficult by a steady drizzle of rain. 
Campbell's Virginians became separated from the main group and 
were not set on the right road and reunited until after daylight the 
next morning. Flintlocks of the long rifles were kept dry by being 
wrapped in knapsacks, blankets, and hunting shirts. All else was 
sacrificed to the well-being of those rifles. 

About sunrise the marchers forded the deep rushing waters of 
Broad River. Now the officers rode at a slow gait ahead of their men, 
many of whom were growing weary of the pursuit. If they were going 
to fight a battle, they said between curses, they would just as soon 
fight it now and get it over with. During short halts they ate whatever 
their wallets and saddlebags provided, or pulled corn from the fields 
as they passed by. They cut some of the hard dry kernels from the 
cobs for their own nourishment and they fed some of the corn to their 
nearly exhausted horses. 

Saturday morning's dawn was gray and gloomy. The drizzle had 
changed to rain. Colonels Campbell, Sevier, and Cleveland agreed 
that the weary men and beasts needed a rest. They rode up to Shelby 
to tell him of their decision. They met the full force of his tenacious 
determination. With an oath he informed them, "I will not stop until 
night, if I follow Ferguson into Cornwallis' lines." 

The men rode on. They had gone only a mile when they learned 
from one Solomon Beason (who lived up to his name for balanced 
judgment and "was half-Whig, half-loyalist, as occasion required") 
that Ferguson was only 8 miles ahead of them. Five miles farther, 

one of their scouts encountered a Tory girl who said that "she had 57 

been in Ferguson's camp that very morning, which was only about 
three miles away, and had carried the British commander some 
chickens; that he was posted on a ridge between two branches where 
some deer hunters had a camp the previous autumn." 

As they came closer to the ridge, the patriots captured a boy 
named John Ponder who was carrying Ferguson's last message to 
Lord Cornwallis. They read the dispatch. Then they asked Ponder 
how they would recognize Ferguson when they saw him. From the 
boy they learned that "while that officer was the best uniformed man 
on the mountain, they could not see his military suit, as he wore a 
checked shirt, or duster over it." They would be alert for a checked 
shirt. They already knew that the right arm of that shirt would be 
dangling, useless, because of the wound suffered at the Brandywine. 

By 3 o'clock on Saturday afternoon the patriot army was in 
the woods at the base of Kings Mountain. The rain had stopped. A 
shimmer of October's rich light spread over the brilliantly colored 
leaves and the drenched landscape. 




^— > 






Kings Mountain was a battle of ultimate sim- 

Ferguson and his Tory militia, some of them 
arrayed in red coats and uniforms, intended to 
hold the crest of this mountain spur and by sound- 
ly defeating the patriot assailants break decisively 
any spirit of resistance that remained in the back- 

The ridge they had chosen was shaped rough- 
ly like a human footprint or the paddle of a canoe. 
It extended northeast some 600 yards and varied 
in width from 60 to 120 feet. Its heavily wooded 
slopes, seamed with occasional ravines, led to a 
rocky, almost treeless summit. The Scottish major 
obviously considered such rough, boulder-strewn 
terrain to be ideal fortifications, for he issued 
no orders for breastworks or redoubts to be con- 

The patriot colonels and their men, on the 
other hand, intended to dislodge the defenders 
from this ridge and end forever the Tory threat 
to their homes and freedom. And like Bre'r Rabbit 
in the briar patch, they welcomed the rugged 
terrain. Trees and rocks could provide cover for 
their ascent. The open crest would expose their 
enemy to the deadly aim of the long rifles. Squirrel 
hunters, Indian fighters, marksmen of remarkable 
accuracy, they were at home among woods and 

When they were about a mile from the ridge, 
the patriots halted, hitched their steaming horses 
and formed themselves into two lines of two col- 
umns each, led by Campbell, Sevier, Shelby, and 
Cleveland. Proceeding on foot, they were to en- 
circle Ferguson's force by taking up preassigned 
positions around the ridge. At the right center was 

Campbell and his Virginians, followed by Shelby. On the right flank 59 

were detachments under Sevier, McDowell, and Winston. The latter 
was to make a wide sweep to the south of Ferguson to cut off the 
possibility of retreat by this most likely route. The left flank detach- 
ments were led by Williams, Chronicle, and Cleveland, with their 

Before his men marched, William Campbell made the rounds 
of each corps. His message was plain. Anyone who did not wish to 
fight should immediately head for home; as for himself, he would 
"fight the enemy a week, if need be, to gain the victory." It was agreed 
"that when the center columns were ready for the attack, they were 
to give the signal by raising a regular frontier war-whoop, after the 
Indian style, and rush forward, doing the enemy all the injury 

The frustration of the past few days had evaporated; the weari- 
ness and contentiousness of the long rainy night's and morning's 
march had disappeared. With nerves stretched taut as bow-strings, 
eyes and ears alert to every detail of the danger confronting them, 
the volunteers followed orders for every man to attend to his rifle: 
"throw the priming out of his pan, pick his touchhole, prime anew, 
examine bullets and see that everything was in readiness for battle." 
Within a few minutes, such details could mean the difference between 
a man's survival-or death. They adopted as their countersign the 
word "Buford," a reminder of the men Tarleton and his legion had 
slaughtered in vicious disregard of Buford's attempt to surrender and 
his call for quarter. As a final preparation, 16-year-old James Collins, 
in Chronicle's regiment, followed the example of the men around him 
and crammed "four or five balls in his mouth to prevent thirst, also 
to be in readiness to reload quick." Nervous and sweating, but less 
fearful of the enemy than of being called a coward, he faced toward 
the ridge. 

Their approach was so rapid that Ferguson was caught by sur- 
prise. Country men were well aware that the best time to hunt 
squirrels was after a rain when the fallen autumn leaves would 
cushion all sounds and footfalls. Capt. Alexander Chesney, a South 
Carolina loyalist, had been on reconnaissance for Ferguson and was 

60 just dismounting to report "that all was quiet and the pickets on the 

alert," when he heard sudden firing about a half-mile in the distance. 
He hastily called up his officers and men. 

The first shots were fired by Tories who had sighted Shelby's 
approaching column. Shelby would not let his men immediately 
return the fire, however. He firmly answered their impatience: when 
they had reached their assigned position, their fire would not be in 

Shelby's men were not yet in place when Campbell stripped off 
his coat and called on his men to attack. He ordered them to "shout 
like hell, and fight like devils!" Their whoops were taken up by Shel- 
by's corps and then by those along the other wings. Atop the ridge, 
Capt. Abraham DePeyster was reminded of his former encounter 
with Shelby and these frontiersmen at Musgrove's Mill. He warned 
Ferguson that these were "the damned yelling boys!" 

To one of those boys "the mountain appeared volcanic; there 
flashed along its summit, and around its base, and up its sides, one 
long sulphurous blaze." The patriots' attack was being answered with 
a burst of trained volley firing. And above all the din and uproar 
there resounded the shrill staccato of Patrick Ferguson's famous 
silver whistle-ranging from the main camp at the northeastern end 
of the ridge along the rocky crest to the southwestern rim. 

The forces of Campbell and Shelby advanced up the craggy 
slope, their men moving Indian fashion to take advantage of every 
tree or rock, shrub or log. It was their fire that brought Ferguson's 
first order for a bayonet charge. At close quarters the Virginians 
could not withstand such an attack and they broke and ran down the 
mountain. Ferguson's Lieutenant Allaire, on horseback, overtook a 
tall patriot officer on foot and felled him with a single blow of his 

This was a critical moment in the battle. The first repulse had 
been sharp and bloody. In their retreat the patriots had run not only 
to the bottom of the ridge but across a ravine and part-way up an 
adjoining slope. At the battle of Camden, such a repulse and such a 
moment had turned into a rout of the patriot forces. Now "everything 
depended upon successfully rallying the men when first driven down 


Mountainmen and Militia 
British-led Tories 



I feet 

OCTOBER 7, 1780 


62 the mountain." And this was what red-haired, energetic William 

Campbell was able to do. He called upon his men to halt and return 
to the ridge and drive the enemy before them. They heard and turned 
and followed his orders-and his example-reloaded their rifles, and 
went back to charge up the mountainside again. 

The battle had become dozens of smaller fights. Three times the 
patriot forces of Campbell and Shelby attacked and were driven back 
down the mountain. But it was becoming apparent that the volleys 
of Ferguson's muskets were ineffective; they passed over the heads 
of the attackers. And the fire from the patriots' rifles was reaping an 
ever deadlier toll. A similar situation existed all around the mountain 
where the rebel riflemen could shoot and dodge for cover while the 
Tories and provincials on the ridge were exposed to fire from both 

The consequences of the day's strangest and most ironic turn 
of events now became increasingly evident. The inventor of the 
Ferguson rifle, the man who was one of the finest marksmen in the 
British army, had no choice but to defend Kings Mountain with the 
bayonet rather than the musket! When Ferguson had ordered his 
sergeants to inspect arms on Friday evening and Saturday morning, 
he directed the men who did not have bayonets to whittle down the 
handles of their hunting knives so they could be fitted into the 
muzzles of their muskets. Considerable time and energy had already 
gone into training the loyalist militia in skillful use of the bayonet. 
But on this hillside, facing these frontiersmen, the bayonet was prov- 
ing a disaster. In fact, the most succinct and familiar evaluation of 
the military confrontation at Kings Mountain would summarize this 
contest between blade and bullet: the light cavalryman, Henry 
"Lighthorse Harry" Lee (future father of Robert E. Lee), observed 
that Kings Mountain proved to be "more assailable by the rifle than 
defensible with the bayonet." 

The contest was bloody. Thomas Young, a 16-year-old private 
who fought his way up the northwest slope with Colonel Williams, 
afterward recalled that "Ben Hollingworth and myself took right up 
the side of the mountain, and fought our way from tree to tree, up to 
the summit. I recollect I stood behind one tree and fired until the 

bark was nearly all knocked off, and my eyes pretty well filled with it. 63 

One fellow shaved me pretty close, for his bullet took a piece out of 
my gun stock. Before I was aware of it, I found myself apparently 
between my own regiment and the enemy, as I judged from seeing 
the paper the Whigs wore in their hats, and the pine twigs the Tories 
wore in their, these being the badges of distinction." 

Ferguson's men launched their third charge down among the 
boulders and trees where Campbell's and Shelby's sharpshooters took 
cover while they picked off their opponents outlined in clear relief 
along the brow of the hill. Flame and smoke increased as the very 
mountain reverberated with the clamor of battle. A South Carolina 
loyalist named Drury Mathis was severely wounded. As he lay flat 
against the rough slope the balls from the patriot rifles fell around 
him like hail while the shots from his fellow loyalists consistently 
passed above the heads of their targets. Playing possum, he hugged 
the ground while watching the mountaineers swarm up the ridge: 
men "not over-burdened with fat, but tall, raw-boned, and sinewy." 

Then the loyalists discovered that they were under attack by 
other patriot detachments, those who had climbed the ridge along 
the northeastern slopes. Whirling to meet this menace from their rear, 
Ferguson's men left Campbell's, Shelby's, and Sevier's sharpshooters 
to reach and hold the crest of their segment of the ridge. 

And the defenders' ground was dwindling. Each thrust by the 
"yelling boys" pushed the Tories and provincials into a narrower 
space along the ridge-top. They were shrinking toward that north- 
eastern bulge of the ridge-top where the headquarters of the camp 
stood. On the slopes here were Williams and his South Carolinians, 
as well as Cleveland's men, who had been delayed briefly in taking 
up their position because of a swampy stretch of ground grown miry 
under the heavy rains and because their hefty leader had taken off 
afoot to lead them when his fine horse, "Roebuck," was wounded. 
There were William Chronicle and Frederick Hambright, who faced 
terrain more sharp and forbidding than Campbell's men had climbed. 
At the base of the ridge, the Carolina-born Chronicle rushed 10 paces 
ahead of his men and waved them on with his military hat, shouting, 
"Face to the hill!" The words died in his throat as he was struck by 

64 a ball. At 25, the young major who had shown great promise and 

won wide popularity among his companions, was dead. 

The battle raged on. German-born Colonel Hambright, severely 
wounded in his thigh, refused to dismount although his boot was 
filling with blood. "Huzza, my brave poys," his accent from the old 
country rang out, "fight on a few minutes more, and the battle will 
be over!" 

Winston's and McDowell's men were among those tightening 
the noose at the end of the ridge. As the tide of patriot success 
swelled, however, Thomas Young saw his friend and leader, Col. 
James Williams, fall before the enemy's attack. Although Williams 
did not die until the following day, this "rough, rash and fearless" 
South Carolinian was already mourned by the youthful neighbor who 
had gone with him into the battle. 

On top of the mountain [Young wrote] in the thickest of the fight, I saw Colonel 
Williams fall, and a braver or better man never died upon the field of battle. I 
had seen him fall but once before that day-it was in the beginning of the action, 
as he charged by me at full speed around the mountain. Toward the summit a 
ball struck his horse just under the jaw, when he commenced stamping as if he 
were in a nest of yellow jackets. Colonel Williams threw his reins over the 
animal's neck, sprang to the ground, and dashed onward. 

The moment I heard the cry that Colonel Williams was shot, I ran to his 
assistance, for I loved him as a father, he had ever been so kind to me, almost 
always carrying a cake in his pocket for me and his little son, Joseph. They 
carried him into a tent, and sprinkled some water in his face. As he revived, his 
first words were, 'For God's sake, boys, don't give up the hill!' I left him in the 
arms of his son Daniel, and returned to the field to revenge his fall. 

Suddenly word spread among Sevier's troops that the hated 
Tarleton and his dragoons had arrived to aid Ferguson and were even 
at that moment on the mountain. Sevier rode among his men, re- 
assuring them: Bloody Tarleton was not there, "and if he were, they 
could make him, like Ferguson's Rangers, turn their backs and flee 
up the mountain." The over-mountain men readied another attack 
on their enemy. 

The noise of rifles, the shouts, the crashing of men and horses 
through the brush and among the boulders, intensified as the struggle 
tightened. The threshing about of wounded animals and the groans 
of wounded men mingled with the general din. Sixteen-year-old 

Robert Henry, of Chronicle's command, had an encounter with a 65 


I was preparing to fire when one of the British advancing, I stepped back and 
was in the act of cocking my gun when his bayonet was running along the barrel 
of my gun, and gave me a thrust through my hand and into my thigh. My an- 
tagonist and I both fell. The Fork boys retreated and loaded their guns. I was 
then lying under the smoke and it appeared that some of them were not more 
than a gun's length in front of the bayonets, and the farthest could not have been 
more than 20 feet in front when they discharged their rifles. It was said that 
every one dropped his man. The British then retreated in great haste, and were 
pursued by the Fork boys. 

William Caldwell saw my condition, and pulled the bayonet out of my 
thigh, but it hung to my hand; he gave my hand a kick and it went out. The 
thrust gave me much pain, but the pulling of it was much more severe. With my 
well hand I picked up my gun and found her discharged. I suppose that when 
the soldier made the thrust, I gripped the trigger and discharged her; the load 
must have passed through his bladder and cut a main artery at his back, as he 
bled profusely. 

The patriots were closing in but Ferguson did not flinch. He 
seemed to be everywhere, attended by the high sustained call of his 
silver whistle rallying Tory militia to resist and give battle. White 
flags of surrender appeared among his forces; he slashed them down 
with sweeping strokes as he galloped to and fro. Two horses were 
shot down as he rode them. He cruelly spurred a third to carry him 
ever faster from one threatened area to another. Several of his officers 
suggested that it was useless to continue the fight. Captain DePeyster 
believed that they might all be slaughtered like "ducks in a coop." 
But their commander in chief was not to be persuaded. Never, he 
told them, would he yield "to such a damned banditti." 

And he did not yield. Cutting and slashing with his weapon in 
a last desperate assault, Ferguson and a handful of his officers flung 
themselves forward in a final attempt to break through the rebel lines. 
His sword broke. He spurred his horse savagely and came to the place 
in front of Sevier's column. Along the mountainside shots rang out. 
Six or eight found their mark. One penetrated Ferguson's head. He 
slumped in the saddle, both arms broken, hat and clothing tattered 
by shot. Then he dropped from his horse, one foot yet caught in the 
stirrup. Four of his loyalists loosed the foot, laid him on a blanket, 

66 and carried him out of the line of fire. As he lay propped up with 

rocks and blankets, his life ebbing away, soldiers from both sides 
came to gaze upon the dying chieftain whose inventions and adven- 
tures had become legendary. 

DePeyster assumed command of the provincials and Tories, and 
the fierce combat continued for a brief interval as the patriots tight- 
ened their encirclement. But with Ferguson's whistle and encourage- 
ments silenced, the mountain's defenders panicked. White flags of 
surrender fluttered among the smoke and confusion. One of the 
soldiers on horseback waved a white handkerchief and was shot down 
by a grief-stricken patriot who had just learned that his brother was 
killed. A second man bearing a surrender token was also shot down. 
At last a third rider reached Maj. Evan Shelby, brother to Col. Isaac 
Shelby, and handed him the token of surrender. 

But the battle had generated a momentum that was difficult to 
halt. The over-mountain men and the Piedmont patriots had sought 
this battle. They were not professional soldiers following military 
rules and protocol as much as aroused citizens following the instinct 
for survival. There were probably some-if not as many as later justi- 
fication claimed-who did not recognize the meaning of the white 
handkerchiefs blossoming on muskets and ramrods. 

Others knew the message well but ignored it. "Give them Bu- 
ford's play!" was the shout, a reminder of Tarleton's lack of mercy 
to Colonel Buford and his men almost 5 months before. All the fierce 
hate and revenge of recent civil strife in the South seemed concen- 
trated on that bloody battlefield at that moment. It was later recorded 
that "the slaughter continued until the Americans were weary of 

"Quarter! Quarter!" the provincials and Tories cried. 

"Damn you, if you want quarter, throw down your arms!" 
Colonel Shelby ordered those before him. 

Young Joseph Sevier, told that his father was killed in action, 
continued firing. Tears coursed down his cheeks as he loaded, fired, 
re-loaded. "The damned rascals have killed my father, and I'll keep 
loading and shooting till I kill every son of a bitch of them!" When 
John Sevier himself appeared presently, very much alive, on horse- 

back, his son could lay aside the rifle. 67 

A soldier of the Virginia regiment was startled to have his rifle 
knocked aside while he was taking aim. Colonel Campbell, striding 
among the various commands, pled, "For God's sake, don't shoot! 
It is murder to kill them now, for they have raised the flag." 

Captain DePeyster, erect on his gray horse, informed Campbell 
what he thought of such behavior. "It's damned unfair, damned 
unfair." But Campbell did not pause for discussion. He ordered the 
men under DePeyster: "Officers, rank by yourselves; prisoners, take 
off your hats and sit down." 

As the vanquished Tories collected in one dejected huddle on 
the brow of the ridge, they were surrounded by the victors who finally 
stood four deep around their quarry. At a cost of only 28 killed and 
62 wounded, their victory was total. Ferguson's detachment of 1,100 
men was annihilated; Cornwallis' left flank no longer existed. 

Led by Campbell, the American patriots gave three loud "huzzas 
for Liberty." 

In one brief hour the tide of war had shifted in the South. Never 
again would the British, boasting invincibility, be able to recruit an 
easy following of loyalists. Never again would the patriot Americans 
fear that their cause was hopeless. As imperceptibly and surely as 
the ocean's reversal from ebb to flow and vice versa, the morale and 
destiny of opponents engaging each other in the Southern theater 
had altered. 

In the mellow light of late afternoon, surrounded by the bloody 
devastation they had wrought, the men of both sides turned from 
fighting to assessing their situation. Patrick Ferguson's corpse was 
wrapped in a raw beef hide and buried in a shallow ravine just below 
the crest of the ridge. A cairn would later be erected at this site. 

Legends would also arise. The most persistent concerned two 
women attached to the loyalist camp. Virginia Sal and Virginia Paul 
were pretty enough to win the attention of the British officer, and 
Ferguson was charming enough to attract the allegiance of the young 
women. Virginia Sal was reputedly one of the first to be killed when 
the firing began; her red hair may have made her a special target. 
When Ferguson was buried, some recalled, they brought her body 

68 to lie in the earth beside his. 

Virginia Paul, on the other hand, seemed immune to attack. 
There were those who vowed they saw her coolly riding across the 
battlefield during the engagement, apparently oblivious to danger. 
After the battle, as the patriots discussed the disposition of their 
prisoners, Campbell argued that Virginia Paul should be paroled. 
His logic was a curious combination of chauvinism and chivalry: 
"She is only a woman," he explained to his weary, sweaty, jubilant 
crowd of men, "our mothers were women. We must let her go." And 
the pretty woman on horseback was probably sent with other prison- 
ers to Burke Court House (present-day Morganton, N.C.) and from 
there to Cornwallis' army in Charlotte. 

There was one quite remarkable surgeon present to treat the 
wounded on both sides. Dr. Uzal Johnson was not the only doctor 
present at Kings Mountain, but he was the one whose ministrations 
lived in the memories of patriots and loyalists alike. Johnson was a 
native of Newark, N.J., where he began practicing medicine at the 
age of 19, the same year he joined the New Jersey Volunteers. In 
1780 he was 23 and serving with Ferguson's corps. At Kings Moun- 
tain he could not begin to meet the demands for his attention and 

The injured and the dying, sprawled along the slopes and ridge, 
were propped against trees and boulders. A lieutenant severely 
wounded in the abdomen was saved from death mainly by the fact 
that he had had so little to eat for 3 days that his stomach was prac- 
tically empty. A dauntless Irishman whose windpipe was injured 
confiscated the rest of the rum with which his wound was being 
bathed and drank it, explaining: "A little in is as good as out." 

Capt. Robert Sevier, John's brother, was among the most crit- 
ically wounded, struck by buckshot near his kidney when he stooped 
to pick up his ramrod. Dr. Johnson tried unsuccessfully to remove 
the shot and ended finally by dressing the wound and warning that 
if Sevier undertook the long trip home before the shot could be re- 
moved, his kidneys would become fatally inflamed. But Robert Sevier 
shared the impatience of his fellow over-mountain men to be on 
their way, and by the time they broke camp the next day, he was 

with them. The doctor's diagnosis proved correct, however, and at 69 

Bright's Place on Yellow Mountain, on his ninth day toward home 
and cared for by his nephew James, Capt. Robert Sevier died. 

The countryside around Kings Mountain was poor, plundered, 
and sparsely settled, but noise of the battle had reverberated far and 
wide. Before nightfall men and women were making their way to 
the ridge to learn the outcome of the fight. Some of the women 
immediately turned to nursing the wounded. Some of the curiosity 
seekers scavenged for treasure on the dead bodies. 

The prisoners-virtually an entire army by 18th-century stan- 
dards-were placed under guard while food was being prepared for 
the hungry victors, who had scarcely rested or eaten for 24 hours. 
There were trophies to be divided, too, such as Ferguson's famous 
silver whistles-a large one and a small one, as it turned out-the 
former given to Shelby, the latter to a soldier named Elias Powell. 
Joseph McDowell received china dinner plates and a coffee cup and 
saucer from Ferguson's official table service, while Sevier took the 
silk sash and Captain DePeyster's sword. The white horse went to 
Cleveland, who had lost his mount, and Ferguson's correspondence 
became Campbell's property. Two of the men who were nearby 
when Ferguson fell had already appropriated his pistol and large 
silver watch, "as round as a turnip." 

During the days to follow, someone searching the battle site 
reportedly found a necklace of glass beads. Quite commonplace 
beads they were. But whether they had belonged to Virginia Sal or 
Virginia Paul, the necklace was a memento of some sentiment or 
romance alien to this bloody battleground. 

The morning after the battle, Sunday, dawned brightly. The 
autumn landscape became once more benign and warm with sunlight 
on brilliant foliage. The dead were hastily buried in shallow graves. 
The boy, James Collins, helped at the grisly task and later remem- 

. . . the scene became really distressing. The wives and children of the poor 

Tories came in, in great numbers. Their husbands, fathers and brothers lay dead 

in heaps, while others lay wounded or dying, a melancholy sight indeed! . . . 

We proceeded to bury the dead, but it was badly done. They were thrown 

70 i nto convenient piles and covered with old logs, the bark of old trees, and rocks, 

yet not so as to secure them from becoming a prey to the beasts of the forests, 
or the vultures of the air. And the wolves became so plenty, that it was danger- 
ous for anyone to be out at night, for several miles around. The hogs in the 
neighborhood gathered into the place to devour the flesh of man, inasmuch as 
numbers chose to live on little meat rather than eat their hogs, though they were 
fat. Half the dogs in the country were said to be mad, and were put to death. . . . 
In the evening, there was a distribution made of the plunder, and we were 
dismissed. My father and myself drew two fine horses, two guns, and some 
articles of clothing, with a share of powder and lead. 

The troops claimed their own spoils as they had claimed their 
own responsibilities for the battle. No order of Congress or of their 
States had brought them here. "It was entirely a volunteer move- 
ment-no baggage-wagons, no commissaries, no pay, and no sup- 
plies." Swords were particularly sought after by poor militia officers 
who had never possessed one before. Other "plunder" was divided 
among the patriots. 

Seventeen baggage wagons in Ferguson's camp were drawn 
across the campfires and burned. To have taken them would prove 
cumbersome-and the patriots were in a hurry. They expected Tarle- 
ton, who was still rumored to be on his way to reinforce Ferguson. 
The weary fighters were content with their present success; they did 
not anticipate another battle immediately. 

The prisoners were lined up for the march toward North Caro- 
lina and were forced to carry their own arms. Lyman C. Draper has 
evoked that scene from manuscripts and memories shared by the 

The flints were taken from the locks; and, to the more strong and healthy Tories, 
two guns each were assigned for conveyance. When ready to start on the day's 
journey, the prisoners were marched, in single file, by the spot where the rifles 
and muskets were stacked, and each was directed to shoulder and carry the arms 
allotted to him. Colonel Shelby, with his sword drawn, stood by, among others, 
to see that the order was strictly obeyed. One old fellow came toddling by, and 
evinced a determination not to encumber himself with a gun. Shelby sternly 
ordered him to shoulder one without delay. The old man demurred, declaring 
he was not able to carry it. Shelby told him, with a curse, that he was able to 
bring one there, and he should carry one away; and, at the same time gave him 
a smart slap across his shoulders with the flat side of his sword-blade. The old 
fellow, discovering that he could not trifle with such a man as Shelby, jumped 
at the gun-pile, shouldered one, and marched away in double-quick time. 

The wounded were transported on hastily improvised horse- 71 

litters made by "fastening two long poles on either side of two horses 
at tandem, leaving a space of six or eight feet between them, stretch- 
ing tent-cloth or blankets between the poles, on which to place a 
disabled officer or soldier." 

While some of the patriots and prisoners remained on the ridge 
to complete disposal of the corpses, the main army-with its more 
than 600 captives and its litters of wounded and dying-left the battle 
site. Departure began about 10 o'clock in the morning. They moved 
slowly. Early in the afternoon the wounded Colonel Williams died. 
The marchers had covered 12 miles when they made camp near the 
Broad River at the deserted plantation of a Tory whose dry rails 
fueled the evening campfires and whose sweet potato patch provided 
tasty provision for an army which had eaten little for 2 days and 

They marched sluggishly during the following days. Most of 
the October fields, long since stripped by raiders from both armies, 
offered scanty forage. Thomas Young feared that they were all near 
starvation. Green pumpkin, sliced and fried, came to be "about the 
sweetest eating" he had ever known. The prisoners' fare was even 
more meager: raw corn on the ear and pumpkins were thrown into 
their midst as if they were "farmer's swine." They devoured them greed- 
ily. Weakened by hunger, encumbered by the wounded and the cap- 
tured, the Kings Mountain patriots, after a week on the road had 
covered only about 40 miles. 

The going was rough in every way. Physical hardship rendered 
tempers raw and violent. Impatient to arrive home, citizen-soldiers 
chafed under the delays of military or legal procedures. By Wednes- 
day, the fourth day after the battle, Colonel Campbell felt it necessary 
to include in his General Order a revealing statement: "I must request 
the officers of all ranks in the army to endeavor to restrain the dis- 
orderly manner of slaughtering and disturbing the prisoners." 

On Saturday, the 14th, the smouldering hatreds flared into a 
final bloody epilogue to Kings Mountain. Encamped about 10 miles 
northeast of Gilbert Town at a site known as Bickerstaff's Old 
Fields-or Red Chimneys, marking the location of the crumbled 

Enraged by stories of alleged Tory atrocities, the 

patriots tried and executed, three at a time, 

nine of Ferguson's captured loyalists. 




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74 plantation house-the patriots held a court to try a number of Tory 

prisoners in their custody. Recent memories of Cornwallis' orders 
following the patriot defeat at Camden, Tarleton's massacre, and 
individual Tory retaliations against patriot sympathizers in many 
communities, were recounted and circulated throughout the camp. 

Citizens along the way had also added their stories of continu- 
ing hostilities. Shelby wrote that when he and others arrived at 
Gilbert Town "they were informed by a paroled officer that he had 
seen eleven patriots hung at Ninety Six a few days before, for being 
Rebels. Similar cruel and unjustifiable acts had been committed be- 
fore. In the opinion of the patriots, it required retaliatory measures 
to put a stop to these atrocities. A copy of the law of North Carolina 
was obtained, which authorized two magistrates to summon a jury, 
and forthwith to try, and, if found guilty, to execute persons who had 
violated its precepts." 

Since most of the North Carolina officers were also magistrates 
at home, it was no problem to find a jury of 12 who qualified under 
these regulations. Thirty-six of the prisoners were rounded up and 
brought before the grim court. They were accused, tried, and found 
guilty of "breaking open houses, killing the men, turning the women 
and children out of doors, and burning the houses." The sentence 
was death. Among those sitting in judgment, it appeared that "Col- 
onel Cleveland was probably more active and determined than any 
other officer in bringing about these severe measures." 

By the time a great old oak was found and preparations for the 
executions were completed, it was late at night. Pine-knot torches 
were lit as the over-mountain men and their companions gathered 
four deep around the condemned prisoners. Three at a time the Tor- 
ies were swung from limbs of the giant oak. After the ninth hanging, 
a halt was called. Not all the patriots were ready to grant a reprieve. 
One bitter Tory-hater pointed to the limp bodies and voiced satisfac- 
tion: "Would to God every tree in the wilderness bore such fruit as 

But the next trio, already bound for execution, were untied. 
The remaining condemned men were pardoned. Those nine already 
dead were left dangling from the tree. They would serve as warning 

to other loyalists in the vicinity. Throughout the region that tree 75 

became known as the Gallows Oak. 

The patriots broke camp before daylight the following morning. 
It was Sunday, the 15th of October. A heavy rain fell all day. But 
Shelby had received a secret warning during the night that Tarleton 
was on his way and might even reach Gilbert Town that morning. 
The over-mountain men were anxious to put the swollen waters of 
the Catawba River between themselves and the hated Tarleton. 

Ironically, while they were fleeing from Tarleton, he was also 
fleeing from them. Accompanying Cornwallis' main army on the 
retreat from Charlotte back into South Carolina, the loyalists were 
fearful of the 3,000 victorious mountaineers rumored to be in pursuit 
of them. 

Throughout that soggy day the patriots with their prisoners 
pushed on. They covered some 32 miles. Ferguson's Lieutenant Al- 
laire, a prisoner, later recalled that "several of the militia that were 
worn out with fatigue, and not being able to keep up, were cut down 
and trodden to death in the mire." Late that night they reached the 
familiar haven of Quaker Meadows, home of Major McDowell, 
where they had camped on their way to Kings Mountain. Once 
again, Joseph McDowell shared the hospitality of his home and farm, 
offering the chilled men, still wet from fording the Catawba river, 
free use of rails from his fences to build campfires and warm them- 
selves. Several of the loyalist officers, including Lieutenant Allaire, 
were even taken into the house for lodging. 

The patriot army began to disperse: Lacey and his men went 
back to South Carolina; Shelby and Sevier and the Virginia footmen 
headed across their mountains to the backcountry; and the mounted 
Virginians, Cleveland's and Winston's troops, with some of Mc- 
Dowell's and a few over- mountain boys who wished to stay with the 
army, escorted the prisoners northward under instructions from Gen- 
eral Gates, still the American commander in the South. Eventually 
the prisoners were delivered to Hillsborough, N.C., where they were 
exchanged for patriot prisoners of war. So many had escaped along 
the way, however- 100 during one day, that miserable rainy Sunday 
after the hangings-that only an estimated 130 captives, Tories and 

76 provincials combined, remained at last to be exchanged. General 

Greene, when he arrived in the South to relieve Gates of the com- 
mand in December, "lamented the loss of so many of the Kings 
Mountain prisoners." 

The two forces which had faced each other atop the rocky ridge 
had swiftly disintegrated. The 100-odd provincials among whom 
Ferguson had aroused such loyalty, and the estimated 1,000 militia 
in whom he placed such high confidence, lay dead atop Kings Moun- 
tain or scattered like grain before the whirlwind across the ravaged 
countryside. The patriot army, an estimated 1,500 to 1,800 strong, 
which had welled up like a natural force at Sycamore Shoals and 
gathered tributaries from among the mountains and lowlands as it 
surged toward Kings Mountain, dissolved back into the countryside. 
Atop Kings Mountain the wild hogs scavenged, the predators gorged, 
and wolves became so numerous that hunters found the site a favorite 
place for their sport. Yet this place of death had made its significant 
contribution toward bringing a new nation to life. 

News of Kings Mountain reached Cornwallis on 77 

Saturday, October 14th. Rumor could hardly mag- 
nify the defeat-Ferguson dead and his entire force 
killed or captured-but it enlarged the patriot army 
to 3,000 and placed it on the march toward British 

Cornwallis was appalled, and the effect on 
his plans was decisive. The thrust into North Caro- 
lina was abandoned and amid torrents of rain, on 
red clay roads churned to a heavy porridge, Corn- 
wallis turned his army back toward South Caro- 
lina. About 20 wagons loaded with supplies were 
destroyed or abandoned in the wretched mud. The 
British commander in chief, sick with a bilious 
fever, riding in a jolting wagon, led his dispirited 
troops into Winnsboro and temporary encamp- 
ment. The British offensive in the South was mo- 
mentarily stalled. British Adj. Gen. Edward Har- 
vey had long since warned that "Our army will be 
destroyed by damned driblets." Kings Mountain 
had been a driblet that released a flood. 

Sir Henry Clinton, with the 20/20 vision of 
hindsight, later claimed: "The instant I heard of 
Major Ferguson's defeat, I foresaw most of the 
consequences likely to result from it. The check so 
encouraged the spirit of rebellion in the Carolinas 
that it could never afterward be humbled." And he 
pronounced it "the first link in a chain of evils that 
followed each other in regular succession until 
they at last ended in the total loss of America." 

George Washington did not hear of Kings 

Mountain until October 26th, and then the report 

was garbled. But when the result was finally clear, 

he spoke in his General Orders of that "important 

object gained" as a "proof of the spirit and re- 
sources of the country." 

78 On November 7, a full month after the battle, the Congress 

received a complete account of the engagement at Kings Mountain. 
Members expressed their approval of the spirited conduct which won 
"complete victory." 

British headquarters in New York tried to dismiss the battle as 
one of little consequence and for a brief interval even denied that it 
had occurred at all. But British supporters in the Southern colonies 
had long since learned the battle's message, and strategists in New 
York and London would soon comprehend it, too: the anticipated 
number of loyalists waiting to enlist under Cornwallis had not and 
would not materialize. It was apparent that much of the Southern 
campaign had been founded on a delusion. 

In addition, there had been a significant misunderstanding of 
the backcountry. Swaggering Tarleton had thought he could subdue 
it through terror. Proud Ferguson had believed he could win it by 
threat. Cornwallis had tried to impress it by force. Their force and 
threat and terror achieved what edicts and oratory, summonses and 
pleas, had not accomplished: unity among a group of tenacious indi- 
vidualists. If British strategists had wondered what the result might 
be if enough patriot bands united to form a small army, their answer 
came at Kings Mountain. 

Kings Mountain was the greatest victory of the Southern militia. 
It has been considered a special achievement of the leaders, men who 
were able to mount an attack, coordinate it with skill, and inspire 
the participants to feats of courage and final victory. But more than 
leadership was involved in that success. When Isaac Shelby informed 
his men that each one of them was to consider himself an officer, he 
struck the keynote of the venture-from the zeal of its voluntary be- 
ginning to the excesses of its violent conclusion, both the best and 
the worst of the expedition grew out of the fact that each patriot 
considered himself leader and follower. 

Between the crushing defeat of Horatio Gates by Cornwallis at 
Camden on August 16th and the rousing victory of Daniel Morgan 
over Tarleton at The Cowpens on January 17th looms Kings Moun- 
tain-a watershed of the Revolution. Cornwallis never regained the 
full momentum of initiative again. The patriots never completely lost 

confidence in their strength again. Nathanael Greene, arriving in the 
Carolinas to replace Gates, announced he would "recover this coun- 
try or die in the attempt." Cornwallis, ill and momentarily shaken, 
complained of refugees and uprisings which taxed his resources and 
called for "the assistance of regular troops everywhere." Increasingly 
those "damned driblets" took their toll. 

Years later, Thomas Jefferson called "that memorable victory" 
at Kings Mountain "the joyful annunciation of that turn of the tide 
of success, which terminated the Revolutionary war with the seal of 

Of all the patriot leaders, none received more political benefit 
from participation in the battle than John Sevier. His biographer, 
Carl S. Driver, points out that "his place in the hearts of his neighbors 
had been definitely established before Kings Mountain, but his par- 
ticipation in this spectacular victory greatly enhanced his prestige as 
a frontier leader. . . . This engagement introduced him to the country 
at large and made him a respected character in all parts of the na- 
tion." Six times he would be elected governor of Tennessee, which 
did not come into existence until 16 years after Kings Mountain. 
Four times he would represent his State in Congress. His neighbors 
continued to remember that he and Isaac Shelby had issued the first 
summons to muster at Sycamore Shoals and turn back the British 

Isaac Shelby returned to his interest in the Kentucky lands 
following the Revolution, and made important contributions toward 
establishment of that State. He became its first governor. 

William Campbell, following Kings Mountain, represented 
Washington County in the Virginia House of Delegates before being 
recalled to duty under General Lafayette. He died on August 22, 
1781, the summer after Kings Mountain, before the final victory of 
the patriot forces to which he had given such memorable service. 

Among the other leaders who figured prominently in the Kings 
Mountain action, Joseph McDowell participated in the subsequent 
victory at The Cowpens and went on to become influential in North 
Carolina politics. Benjamin Cleveland eventually served as a justice 
in North Carolina, but his chief claim to fame was the 450-pound 

80 size he reputedly attained. Joseph Winston served in the North Caro- 

lina legislature and in the United States Congress, while Frederick 
Hambright bought a home in the vicinity of Kings Mountain, where 
he died at the age of 90. 

And what happened to those loyalist leaders who were at Kings 
Mountain? Abraham DePeyster, whose life had been saved that day 
when a rifle ball was stopped by a dubloon in his vest pocket, retired 
following the British surrender at Yorktown and lived in New Bruns- 
wick, Canada. Others of the provincial soldiers-Capt. Samuel Ryer- 
son and Lt. John Taylor, both from New Jersey, along with Lts. 
Anthony Allaire, William Stevens, and Duncan Fletcher-also found 
haven for retirement in Canada. Dr. Uzal Johnson, who served the 
wounded of patriot and loyalist forces with equal care after the 
battle, who endured insults during the wretched march following the 
battle, returned to his native Newark, N.J., where he continued prac- 
ticing medicine until he died at the age of 70. 

Perhaps Patrick Ferguson, writing from America early in his 
service there to his anxious mother in the British Isles, unwittingly 
provided the most concise and accurate memorial for those who died 
on the ridge at Kings Mountain on October 7, 1780: "The length of 
our lives is not at our command, however much the manner of them 
may be. If our Creator enable us to act the part of honour, and to 
conduct ourselves with spirit, probity, and humanity, the change to 
another world whether now or fifty years hence, will not be for the 


The battle in which he lost his life was a portent of another 
kind of change in worlds. An old world was being challenged; a new 
world was in birth. That birth, at Kings Mountain as elsewhere 
throughout the colonies, was bloody and dearly bought. It brought 
out the worst and best in the human beings involved. It also bore the 
pangs and satisfactions of that stretch toward freedom, toward ful- 
fillment, which was part of a new people's self-discovery and self- 
government. Those new people would be called Americans. 

82 For Further Reading. Except for the Draper volume, the following 

books are of general Revolutionary War history which include ac- 
counts of Kings Mountain or deal with specific aspects of the war 
(the loyalists, for example) having a bearing on the battle. 

Robert M. Calhoon, The Loyalists in Revolutionary America. New 

York, 1965. 
Lyman C. Draper, King's Mountain and Its Heroes. Cincinnati, 1881. 

Several reprint editions are available. 
Don Higginbotham, The War of American Independence. New York, 

Piers Mackesy, The War for America, 1775-1783. Cambridge, 1964. 
Lynn Montross, Rag, Tag and Bobtail: The Story of the Continental 

Army, 1775-1783. New York, 1952. 
Lynn Montross, The Reluctant Rebels: The Story of the Continental 

Congress. New York, 1950. 
Hugh F. Rankin, The American Revolution. New York, 1964. 
George F. Scheer and Hugh F. Rankin, Rebels and Redcoats. New 

York, 1957. 
Paul H. Smith, Loyalists and Redcoats. Chapel Hill, 1964. 
Jack M. Sosin, The Revolutionary Frontier. New York, 1967. 
M. F. Treacy, Prelude to Yorktown: The Southern Campaign of 

Nathanael Greene, 1780-1781. Chapel Hill, 1963. 
Dale Van Every, Men of the Western Waters. Boston, 1956. 

c 3 • c ■ K 61 

1 3i n n """A", "•"'"'"'iiilllllllllll 

Library of Congress Cataloging In Publication Data 

Bibliography: p. 

Supt. of Docs. I 29.2:K61 

1 Kings Mountain, Battle of, 178Q, I. Title 

E241 K5D93 973.3'36 76-608326 


For sale by the 

Superintendent of Documents, 
US Government Printing Office, 
Washington, DC 20402. 
Stock Number 024-005-00710-5- 

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